Disclaimer: All this belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy (Grrr...Argh).
Distribution: The Mystic Muse http://mysticmuse.net
Feedback: Thank you.
Spoilers: Season 4.
Summary: And life continues.
Suffer not thy enemies to live;
Yet insure they live to suffer.
-The Book of Rage
The First Test
The wind gently blows the branch outside our window aside letting the morning sun hit me in the face; then the branch swings back into place cutting it off. Then the wind blows it aside again and I get another faceful of sun. Light dark light dark light dark…this strobe affect is really annoying.
I roll over to hide my face and my arm hits the lump lying beside me.
"Ow," says the lump. The bed shifts and I feel the covers tugged as the lump sits up. "Ow, Willow, you hit me in the head."
The bed shakes. Buffy must be rubbing her probably not injured knoggin.
I sit up in bed and stare around the room. "Looking for something?" she asks me innocently.
"But- but- but-" I stammer.
"A very nice one," Buffy interrupts peeking under the covers.
"No I mean," I keep stammering. "There was a lake and it was dark and…and…we fell asleep there!"
Buffy doesn't say anything.
"It was a dream wasn't it?" I ask, turning to look at her.
Buffy smiles slightly but says nothing.
Wha? "But," I start.
"Nicely curved," Buffy interrupts me.
I roll my eyes. "Enough with the innuendoes, Buffy," I say.
"Not innuendoes, honest opinion," she replies stretching. Buffy stretching does all sorts of insane things to my brain, top most being shutting it down completely. I'm pretty sure she knows exactly what she does to me when she stretches like that. Slowly, languidly, raising her arms over her head, arching her back and thrusting out her chest.
Buffy finishes her stretch and yawn. "You were saying something, Will?" she asks me smiling innocently.
"Uh…that is…um…Beach!" I cry desperately. My mind clings to that word like a lifeline, pulling itself free from a torrential hormone storm.
"Beach?" Buffy repeats my word in an amused tone, eyebrows raised.
"There…there was a beach and…and…." My voice dies away and I hunch forward, letting my shoulders sag. It couldn't have been just a dream, it was so beautiful and…and I learned how to be free there and it was scary, terrifying really but so very good.
I stare at Buffy mournfully, sticking out my lower lip in a pout I feel. "Tell me it wasn't a dream," I whimper. "Please?"
Buffy leans forward and quiets me with a gentle finger across my lips. "Shhh, sshhh," she whispers as she runs the fingers of her other hand through my hair.
"It wasn't a dream," she says softly. "It was real, the lake, the dark, falling asleep on the beach. It really happened."
"Oh," I sniffle. "Good. How, how'd we get back in the dorm though?"
Buffy shrugs slightly and the hormone tide makes an unexpected surge. "Carried you after you fell asleep."
"Buffy, I was covered in sand, how the heck did you get that off me?"
Buffy grins. "Did you know you babble the strangest things when you're being held upright under a lukewarm shower?"
Aaaannndd I'm already blushing for the first time today and it's only…I glance at the clock…eight thirty five. A new record.
"Eight thirty five?" I screech loudly. "I'm gonna be late!" I jump out of the bed and try and dash across the room to my closet. I trip on a bump in the rug and settle for scrambling on all fours. Behind me I hear Buffy murmur, "Definitely a nice butt."
I glare at her over my shoulder while slipping on a pair of panties. "You are so not helping right now you know that?" I growl while shoving my arm in the wrong strap of my bra and it takes me precious seconds to realize I'm wearing it backwards.
"Sorry Will," Buffy snickers quietly and takes a deep breath then leans back slowly against her pillow. Hormone surge number two makes me pause in my hasty dressing. "The luxury of a ten o'clock class is a wonderful thing." Buffy sighs. "You could always forget about it, Willow. You could always come back to bed."
She stares at me, her eyes half shut, at my partially dressed body. Her look is hot, like a desert wind; it's dry and rough across my skin. My cheeks flush, getting warmer; I want to look away. I have an urge to cover my nakedness. I'm embarrassed to be stared at by Buffy now. It's…a possessive. I don't feel very comfortable.
"Classes aren't everything, Willow," Buffy says. She raises her legs slowly and kicks the covers off; they slide to the ground silently. Buffy pulls her feet underneath her and leans forward, stretching across the top of the bed, arms outstretched, shoulders hunched.
"Come back to bed Willow?" she asks me plaintively. She curles her fingers into claws and digs them into the sheet cover, pulling slowly until the material bunches up underneath her. "Please?" She purrs.
The purr is heavy and guttural and makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. "Buffy," I say crossly shrugging on a shirt, label in the back thank you very much, "What's gotten into you?"
Buffy blinks rapidly and the heated, hungry, dangerous look is gone. Silently she pushes the sheets away and pads across the room. I fasten the snap on the dress I randomly grab from the closet. "Sorry again," she says gently taking my hand. "You…were just so cute looking." She squeezes my hand gently. "I didn't mean anything."
I nod quickly and smile a bit at her apologetic expression. Eyes down cast a little, lower lip going all poutyish. "S'okay," I reply. I stroke her cheek with the thumb of my free hand. "But you're buying lunch!" Then I yank my hand from hers before she can react and run out the door grabbing my bag on the way, laughing. As I shut the door I hear her clearly shout, "Hey!"
Don't like having to settle for young game; they should be given a chance to mature, increase their numbers before being hunted. That young stag was the only thing around though, other than possum. I hate eating possum. The stag died quick at least and I'm not hungry anymore.
Shifting my weight from one leg to the other stimulates bloodflow, keeps the muscles from cramping. Crouching in a tree is boring work though, at least it gives me a view of the Target's window. Such as it is. Don't have the option of moving in closer though, if it's as wild as I've been told there's a chance that it could catch my scent. Can't have that happen. These binoculars are next to useless what with the rising sun reflecting off the windows.
So. I can't see anything from this vantage point and I can't afford to move closer. Why am I here?
'Because the Council has you over a barrel,' that very unhelpful, but practical, part of my mind reminds me.
In an effort to ignore it I run over, again, what I know about this Target.
Fast, preternaturally fast. I saw it, actually it was carrying someone, come out of their window last night and they were gone in an eyeblink. No way could I keep up. Since it was carrying someone and moving that fast I would guess the rumors about its strength aren't exaggerated either. Cunning as well. Even after they were gone I still couldn't find any tracks. Tree jumper then, still some of these trees are quite a distance apart yet there were still no tracks; more evidence of the target's strength. What does that leave me with?
Head on confrontation is out. This prey would smear me. Okay then, what else we got?
Could use it's friends, family I suppose but I really am not willing to do that, not at least when there are other options. What are they though; c'mon think already!
Okay…we also know that it goes out almost every night to hunt. What does it hunt? Easy, it hunts vampires and all sorts of other night spawn.
Where does one find night spawn?
Again easy, the Cemetery.
I smack myself in the forehead. I am definitely getting slow as I age. Okay, trail the roommate this morning than go and check out the undercommunity. See where the Target likes to hunt best.
I think in this case the path to a successful hunt is to create the situation.
Right then, got a plan. Or the beginnings of one, huh? Wind's shifted. Blowing from behind me.
'Time to move to another tree,' Practical mind pipes up.
Hell with that lets go round the front of the building, wait for the roommate this 'Willow Rosenberg'.
I dash down the stairs ignoring the looks that I get. They've gotten more numerous, guess the rumor is still running rampant even though Buffy kissed me in front of everybody nearly a week ago. Honestly you'd think these people would have more interesting things to talk about.
I stop by one of the vending machines in the dorm lottery and feed it a few coins. There are few hushed conversations going on around me. I try not to imagine they're about me, in all likelihood not many of them are. The bottle of fruit punch lands at the bottom of the machine with a solid clunk. Grabbing it I twist off the top and give a good chug. The hushed talk doesn't bother me; I developed a pretty thick skin in High School.
Cordelia actually did me a favor, who woulda thunk? Maybe I should send her a card.
'Dear Cordy, thanks for being a total bitch for most of High School. Because of you I can now easily withstand the whispering and the stares from people who know I'm sleeping with another woman.
I owe you a coke.
PS. Love being a polite term, you're cute n'everything but not my type.'
Pushing open the door I nearly run into a small group of girls. They stare at me blankly for a few seconds, seconds I don't have. 'Scuse me, late for class, comin' through." I mutter pushing my way past them.
The instant I'm free of them they burst into nervous giggles. "Did she touch you?" I hear one girl hiss.
"I can't believe it." Another says not too quietly.
"Looking us in the eyes like that, who does she think she is?" A third voice pops up before I'm out of earshot.
That last statement echoes in my mind as I walk briskly across the campus to the class. 'Who does she think she is?'
'Who does she thinks she is?'
'Who does she think she is?'
'Who does she think she is?'
'Who do I think I am?'
I suddenly feel like smiling. Smiling for a long long time. I know who I am. I'm Willow Rosenberg. Jewish computer geek, practicing witch, fighter of darkness for most of my adolescence and been partially responsible for saving this world a good number of times. Above that though, beyond all those things I'm the person Buffy Summers loves.
That's who I am.
And if those stupid ladies don't get it, than they won't get it because I got it and the getting…I mean having is good!
Besides, if they ever really annoy me I can always just hack their G.P.A scores. Oooh, bad Willow, thinking thoughts like that. I'm still smiling.
I reach the classroom and give the double doors a solid push but they don't budge. There's only the solid clank of a heavy latch colliding with the inner doorframe. Like anybody else in this situation I act totally stupid; I don't believe the door is still locked and give another push just to check, as if the universe is fooling me, but the latch just goes clunk again. Then I step back away from the door puzzled. Of course that's when I notice the note carefully taped to the door that for some reason I didn't notice in the first place, life's funny like that. Moving forward slightly I read the note.
CLASSES CANCELLED FOR THE WEEK
TEACHER TAKEN ILL.
There's a few more lines about who to contact for assignments and other stuff. I take off my backpack, rummage around and grab a notebook. Then I carefully write down the information. Phone numbers and email addresses etc…etc….
Someone brushes past me, it's another student. He grabs the handle of the door and gives it a solid push. Of course it remains locked.
"Huh?" The student says, looking confused. He too gives the door another push. Well, at least it's not just me. When the door refuses to open a second time he does pretty much what I did; stare at it in confusion than he notices the note.
"Well, that's a pretty good start to the day," he says to no one in particular. "Hey," he turns to me. "Any idea what's the dea-whoa!"
"Whoa?" I ask him. "What's whoa?"
"Er…uh…"he stammers and seems very interested in the floor. "Nothin'," he mumbles. "Gotta go, scuze me."
I stare after him for a few seconds than shrug my shoulders. I'm smart enough to understand, maybe, why he reacted that way. I just don't care. I finish writing down the contact info and shove the notebook back into my bag, re-shoulder it and head for the door that leads back to the campus.
I sure hope nothing Hellmouthy has happened to my professor. He's okay.
Now what to do, what to do. Buffy suggested coming back to bed and the idea has certain appeal. I mean it really has certain appeal, really real real appeal! Real real reality real real-
"Hey! Watch it!" I shout as a student walks into me. My backpack slips off my shoulders and lands on the floor with a loud thud.
"Try not standing in the middle of the hallway then," the female student who just collided with me snaps back. "What the heck were you thinking about anyway?"
My face gets hot. Willow-Blush take two. What time is it now? Nine o'three; another new record.
"Nothin'," I say quickly grabbing my bag. I walk away from Ms. Cranky Face quickly and exit the building. I could go back to the dorm I suppose, Buffy would be thrilled, and if things went well we'd both wind up thrilled. The strap of my backpack digs into my shoulder.
Or I could go to the library and do the homework I skipped last night.
Being responsible sucks.
With my destination reluctantly chosen I walk down the path that leads to the campus library. Even though it's early the sun is really coming down on us. The heat wave is still in effect; around me students are lounging in the grass between classes. Some lying down, reading a textbook or something. Others are sitting with their backs against the trees, chatting or just thinking. None of them notice me walking past.
'Good', I think to myself. 'I've had enough attention for one day.'
"I'm telling you man, that's what I saw. Ask him, he saw them at it too." A voice says.
I glance in the direction I hear the voices. Three young men are walking down the path toward me. I can make out the faces of two of them but the third one I can't make out. Probably because he's walking behind the other two.
I shrug, just guys doing the guy talk thing.
"I did man, hottest thing I've seen this side of a television screen, or an R rated movie!" The second boy says excitedly.
I ignore them, what does what they're saying have to do with me? Gotta get to the library, lots of work to catch up on and I only have two hours to get it all done.
"You two are nuts you know that? There is no way that happened, believe me I know. I have…you could say…a bit of inner knowledge on this subject."
Oh no. That voice I can't ignore. Hoped he'd be smart enough to stay out of our way but I'm not that lucky.
I glance in the direction I heard the voices, yep. There he is, still behind his two friends. They've gotten close enough so I can recognize him. I'd recognize those big expressive eyes, corny hairstyle and arrogant smirk anywhere.
I had this thing I did when I was in High School and didn't want to be noticed. I'd hunker down a bit; try to hide in my clothes, pay a lot of attention to my feet and walk a bit faster. I notice I'm doing it now. Maybe he won't see-
Didn't work in High School that often either.
Take a deep breath, okay…hold it…hold it…hold it. Now, let it out slowly evenly out your nose. There isn't that much better?
Parker walks up to me.
Nope, still want to beat him over the head with a blunt object.
"Willow, hey how ya doin'?" Parker says. "You won't believe what these two morons told me." He points with his finger at the two guys who are standing behind him. Both look at me and then instantly look elsewhere. The one on the left is studying a tree while the one on the right has taken a new interest in the textbook he's holding.
"Uh, Parker," one of them says.
Parker ignores him, "They're telling me that that they saw Buffy kissing another girl in the quad. And not a platonic kiss but supposedly a full on the mouth tonsil washing kiss," he gives a derisive snort.
"Like a kiss you give someone you're in," he makes quotation marks in the air with his fingers. "Love with."
"Parker!" His friend hisses at him.
"How is Buffy anyway?" Parker asks me jovially. "She okay? I mean no hard feelings or anything? I think she saved my life after that fire a few weeks back but I'm not sure. I'd like to make it up to her, got any suggestions?" What next? Is he going to pat me on the back conspiratorially or something?
"Parker!" his friend shouts.
"What?" Parker shouts turning around to face him. "Can't you see I'm busy here? Interrupting like that. No one wonder you're hard up for a date."
His fiend points at me nervously, "That's the girl that Buffy chick was kissing!"
Parker looks back at me over his shoulder, he looks confused. "Heh, what?"
I just smile at him politely and fold my arms across my chest.
"That's a joke right?" Parker looks back at his friend than back at me. "You're kidding right? Some sort of joke or something?"
"Gosh Parker," I say calmly. "You must be really bad in bed. Drove poor Buffy into the arms of another woman."
I shake my head slowly. "Tsk, tsk, tsk."
Parker turns around slowly and then looks at me, totally, up and down as if he's never seen me before. "You're sick," he finally says and spins on his heel and starts to walk away.
"Sick am I?" I say loudly. "How am I the sick one when you're the one who goes around looking for hurt girls, seducing them and then just dropping them once you got what you wanted: Them in bed?"
Parker freezes and one of his friends gives a low whistle.
"I did not seduce Buffy," Parker says calmly. He turns around. "I gave her what she needed, a night of pleasure. Of feeling appreciated, I did her a favor."
If I was holding any books I'd drop them. No, I'd throw them at him, either way they wouldn't be in my hands anymore. "A favor?" I repeat his words. "You hurt her you poop-head!"
"I'm a what?" Parker asks his eyebrows shooting above his hairline.
"A poop-head," I repeat. "No, no you're not a poop-head. That would be an insult to poop-heads everywhere." I step toward him and say my words slowly and clearly so there's no chance of him misunderstanding all these big words I'm using. "You're a…you're a…homo boobious! Not even related to the human species just some offshoot of evolution that somehow got overlooked."
"You are sick," Parker decries, stabbing at me with a finger. "And somehow you've twisted Buffy all around backwards."
He grins a very slithery grin. "Maybe I should pay her a visit. Get her back on 'the right side of the fence'."
"Parker, man," one of his friends says quietly.
"No, no," Parker responds quickly without taking his eyes off me. "It's cool." He gets right in my face, his nose inches from mine staring down at me like I'm a product he can select off a shelf, not a some one…just a thing.
"Maybe," and he says these words quietly, so quietly I'm sure I'm the only one who can hear them. "Maybe I'll even do you a favor," he breathes. "I'd be settling for less than average but I could consider it my duty as a gentleman."
Screw it, I'm gonna fry him.
"Excuse me," someone else says. "I can't help but notice the confrontational nature of this conversation."
The guy who just appeared is big. Dressed in jeans, a denim shirt unbuttoned down the front with a pea-green t-shirt underneath. Short, light brown hair, a flat non-compromising expression on his face, big arms crossed across his chest and that chest is at my eye level which means he's big. Really big.
Parker looks up at him.
"I'd hate to think you were threatening this young lady," the stranger continues. Only he's not a stranger, I know him from somewhere.
"'Cause if you were that would mean I'd have to go and act macho," The stranger leans forward. Yeah he's definitely intruding on Parker's personal space now. Yay. "What with this being the twenty-first century, a kinder, gentler millennium, that would be frowned upon." He leans forward more forcing Parker to look up to maintain eye contact. "But I'm willing to make that sacrifice," the stranger growls.
Parker visibly swallows; his friends say nothing.
"Jesus, Riley," Parker murmurs. "No need to get so hostile an stuff'. S'not like I was going to actually do anything."
"Parker," Riley says. Now I know where I've seen him. He's the TA in my psych class. "You almost never actually do anything. You just say lots."
Riley suddenly backs off a bit, giving Parker some breathing room. "But that's okay," he says smiling a friendly smile. "'Cause this is a free country and there is freedom of speech."
Parker's shoulders slump as he relaxes.
"Having such freedom," Riley nobly intones. "I take this moment to tell you, you have thirty seconds to get out of my sight."
Parker does a double take, "Huh?" he says.
"Riley man," he continues. "You don't get it. This girl, Willow, she did something to a friend of mine. She's a dyke!"
Riley raises one eyebrow, "So?"
"So?" Parker sounds outraged. "She turned my friend into a rugmuncher like her!"
Rugmuncher? Wha? Oh, I get it. Hey!
"Your friend," Riley replies skeptically. "One of your conquests you mean?"
"I don't conquer women!" Parker practically shouts, the veins in his neck standing out. "I give them a good time."
"You generous soul," Riley snickers, rolling his eyes. I give a quiet snort and fight of the urge to grin. I really shouldn't be enjoying this.
"Hey, back off Riley, let me fix this." Parker shoves his finger in Riley's face. "I know how to make this right. Just gotta be-"
Parker is interrupted by Riley hitting him. He rolls on the ground hands clasped to his face and staring up at Riley in fear.
"Freedom of speech is one thing," Riley says glaring down at Parker. "Freedom of stupidity is something else."
Would it be bad taste to applaud?
Parker scrambles to his feet and walks quickly away without looking back. Glancing at Riley his two friends follow him hastily. Riley turns to me, his arms loose at his sides, not threatening in any way, big friendly smile on his face.
"Hi," he says offering his hand in greetings. "My name's Riley Finn."
"Uh, Willow," I reply. I slowly take his hand and try and give it a firm shake. I know I hate it when people give me limp, slack, wet handshakes. Trouble is I can't quite wrap my hand around his fingers.
"I thought you looked familiar," Riley says releasing my hand. "You're in Dr. Walsh's Abnormal Psche class right?"
I nod. I'm still coming to grips with just how far up I have to look at this guy. He's big, I said that already, I mean I thought that already and…and…HEY! Who does he think he is butting in on my battles. I could have handled Parker no sweat and Mr. Hero comes waltzing in to save the day. Jerk.
"Uh, thanks for the help," My mouth says. Traitor.
Riley smirks. "Help? With Parker?"
He shakes his head chuckling, "No, I'm sure you had everything well in hand. Maybe I shortened it somewhat."
Darn, he's modest and charming too. I'm probably going to wind up liking the big palooka.
"Willow!" A voice behind me calls. Riley glances over my shoulder and I turn around to see Buffy running across the campus. Her long hair is whipping behind her, her backpack carelessly slung over one shoulder. I see she's stuck with the simple jeans and t-shirt look today. "Willow!" she calls again.
Breathing heavily, she's faking I can tell, Buffy reaches me and Riley. "Hey there," she says smiling at me.
"Hi Buffy," I say returning her smile. I want to hug her. The impulse is strong and immediate; an ache in my arms, they're complaining that they're a little cold and some Buffy-Body Heat would hit the spot. I don't. I guess I'm not comfortable enough to be so brazen in public.
Buffy must read my mind because she's enveloped me in a huge hug. "Missed you," she whispers in my ear. I can't reply, too busy sighing in contentment.
Letting me go, aw, she steps back and looks up at Riley who's watched all this with a slight smile. "Hello," she says to him. She looks at me smiling a wicked grin. "Did I miss something or are you gettin' bored already Will?"
I think I'll fall over now.
"Wha?!" I shriek. "No! Nothing like that Buffy." And I'm staring at my shoes again. Without looking up I decide to make introductions. I wave my hand feebly in the direction I think Riley is in. "Uh…Riley Finn this is my…uh…."
"Girlfriend," Buffy says.
"Girlfriend," I weakly echo. "Buffy Summers." The embarrassment is very unwelcome.
"Oh I know Ms Summers." Riley says. Without lifting my head I glance at the two of them through my bangs.
"Yeah?" Buffy asks a little cockily. "How?"
"Should say I know about you Ms Summers," Riley continues. "You're a bit of a legend in the psyche dept."
I can literally see Buffy beginning to preen.
"Not everyone hands in test answers about the Ego, Super-Ego and Super-Duper-Ego." Riley concludes.
Buffy visibly deflates. "Uh…." she whimpers.
I decide to go back studying the tips of my shoes. Not that I'm embarrassed anymore but I want to be sure Buffy doesn't see me chewing on my knuckle trying not to laugh.
"Well," I say loudly. "Thanks for the help Riley. C'mon Buffy let's head to the library and hit the books."
"Help?" Buffy looks at me, slightly puzzled; then her expression changes to one of mild panic. "Books?"
"My pleasure," Riley replies with a slight nod. "I've been looking for an excuse to hit Parker for a while."
"Parker?" Buffy's eyes widen. "You met Parker?"
"Tell ya later," I say grabbing her arm and dragging her in the direction of the library. "Bye Riley."
"See you in class," he says and resumes walking down the path.
I look around slowly.
Okay. There is nothing significantly different about this cemetery from the far to many others dotting this town.
So why does the Slayer come here nearly every night? Gotta be something goin' on here.
Took some time but I managed to finally find a bit of her trail. If I'm right she comes into the cemetery from a large oak that marks the northern boundary of this deadland. So I should set up the snare there. Course that means I'll have to find something that can hold a preternaturally strong killing machine.
I exit the cemetery and have a sigh of relief. There's something about places like that that I can't stand. Even Nature seems to abhor the cemeteries around here. There's this constant sense of suspense in the air. A giant string getting more and more taunt as the seconds of the day tick past. I hate it. Heck in comparison standing on the side of the road with car exhaust clogging my lungs is a picnic.
I sit on a bench and ignore the people staring…at…. okay. Nobody IS staring at me. This is a weird town.
Now, how to snare a Slayer?
I…run out of adjectives. Oh…wait…brainstorm.
There's a forty-something man standing at the bustop right next to the bench. I grab his shoulder and spin him around.
"Excuse me," I say cordially. He glances at me before looking me in the eyes.
"Yes?" He inquires politely.
"Uh, where's the local mall?" I ask.
"Two blocks down that road," he replies pointing. "Then take a left and another block."
"Thanks," I say. I inhale deeply. I shudder a bit but hold the air in my lungs. "Some advice in exchange for your help." I say, exhaling. "Less red meat."
Patting his cheek gently I take off at a brisk jog in the directions indicated. Won't be dark for hours but I have a lot of prep work to do.
"Aw Willow," Buffy whines. "Why do we have to be in here?"
Here being the absolutely huge library of UC Sunnydale. "You actually put down 'Super-Duper-Ego'?" I answer her question with another.
"It was an honest mistake," Buffy grumbles.
"You have got to spend more time here, Buffy," I say shaking my head. We head behind the stacks into a far corner where an isolated table and two chairs sit in the corner of the cavernous library. Next to the last shelf of books is a narrow door marked 'Janitor's Closet'. This is my favorite place to study. Isolated, warm, cozy, and well lit.
"So…why are we here, exactly?" Buffy asks dropping her backpack onto the table.
"Homework," I reply unslinging my own pack.
"Homework?" Buffy repeats the word as a question. Something in her voice makes me glance up from taking my books out of my bag. Buffy's grin is wide, white, sharp looking and…uh-oh, hungry.
Buffy blurs, a sensation of being lifted, a short squeak of forced metal and the next thing I know I'm in the closet, literally. I'm gently being pressed against the wall, Buffy pushing up against me. Her hands guide mine to the wall and hold them there, with only a little force.
"Buffy, what?" I stammer. "What are you doing?"
Her long hair falls across the back of my neck and she whispers into my ear, "Homework."
I try to push off the wall, to get some room but then she presses a little bit harder against my back. I can feel the swell of her breasts pushing against me, her pelvis leaning against my…uh…me, all the strength has left my arms. "Buffy wait," I whine.
She nudges my feet gently with her own, spreading my legs just a little. "Why?" she breathes into my ear; the warm air brushing across my neck. Chilly tingles race down my spine.
"Buffy we can't-" I begin to protest. The tip of her tongue slowly slides along the edge of my ear. Hot, her tongue is so hot. And wet. "Nnnn," I sigh, my head arches back a little, pulling away.
"Thought you'd like that," Buffy whispers. More chills. Her fingers, like warm soft…steel, are splayed over mine. The heat is rushing up my skin. Her lips are pressed against the back of my neck and it arches away again.
No, no, no. Focus Rosenberg. Academia, degrees…again with the tongue…arrgh. Uh…er…public places and social responsibility. She's not pressing my hands against the wall anymore but mine stay anyway like they're glued there.
"Risky," I stammer. Now I'm actually muttering all the reasons this is a bad idea. "Public embarrassment…ahh." She buries her face in the little hollow where my neck and shoulder meet and breathes warm air over my skin. "Please, please…Buffy we can't."
Buffy's ignores what I say and instead her hands have slid down over my torso, my waist, my thighs….
"Not make dean's list," I squeak from between clenched teeth. I pant slightly, my own tongue flickers out to lick the sweat from my lips. "Buffy."
Her fingers hook under the edge of my dress and she drags her fingertips, just the nails really, up my bare inner thighs. She takes my earlobe between her lips and suckles.
Can't keep my head up, let it rest against the wall…hard to…breathe.
"Other students," I whimper. "They're close, could find us Buffy. They're so close…close…closer…God."
And I can't think of any other reasons why this is a bad idea.
Damn, almost ten in the morning and I'm not even halfway through this pile of papers to be corrected. 'Be All That You Can Be' never mentioned anything like this. I glance at the clock on my desk again. Shit, I've got fifteen minutes to finish this pile of papers or Dr. Walsh will not be happy. I eye the remaining papers, a pile at least half an inch thick.
"Just get it done, Riley." I mutter to myself and reach for the paper on top of the stack. Then someone knocks on my door.
"This better be good," I say loudly getting to my feet. Crossing my room I fling the door open.
"Yeah whaddya- Oh it's you." I say.
I walk back to my desk and sit back down, swiviling the chair so I'm now facing my door. "Shut the door." I command.
Parker, holding a wet rag to his now very swollen nose, kicks the door shut and sits down on the edge of my bed. Great, now the sheets will be all oily.
"Riley," Parker says nasaly. "Punching me in the nose was never part of the deal."
Actually he says 'Wiwwey, punding me in da node wa' nevwer pawt of da deal.' Oooo…you wasicly wabbit.
I shrug. "I'd apologise, Parker. But that might give you some idea that I like you and we couldn't have that."
He surges to his feet and takes a step toward me. "Wanna another bop?" I ask him casually still leaning back in my chair. "Even out the pair? Complete the collection?"
He freezes. Jee, maybe he's smarter than he looks.
"Fine," he nods, sitting back down. "Whatever. Gonna cost you extra though."
I shrug again and reach into my back pocket, Parker tenses up and I smile at him slowly, than I take my hand out holding my wallet. Parker relaxes, leaning foward, resting one elbow on his knee; Trying to look cool. How he thinks he can look cool with a bloody cloth on his face is beyond me.
"BANG!" I suddenly shout pointing my forfinger at him. Parker jumps three feet straight in the air. When he sees me chuckling at him he stands there staring at me. "That wasn't funny man!" He says loudly. "That wasn't fucking funny!"
"Oh I dunno," I choke out between chuckles. "It's all a matter of perspective."
I flip open the wallet and hand him two hundreds. "Here," I say. "One hundred per our agreement and second hundred for 'Bravery beyond the call of duty'." I say that last part like a old, pompous general. Parker snatches the money from my hand angrily. "And here's a fifty for the amusment." I say tossing the last bill at his feet.
Parker glares at me. The one nostril not covered up by the 'bandage' flares a few times. His eyes are bright and shiny, his jaw muscles stand out in stark relief on his pale face. Then he bends over, grabs the fifty dollar and bill and turns towards the door.
I wait just until he's got his hand on the doorknob and is about to open it before I say anything. "Parker," I say quietly. He turns his head to stare at me over his shoulder. Now I see a little fear. Good. "Just remember." And I bring my finger to my lips and go 'Shhhhhhh.'
Parker stares at me for a few more seconds, nods once quickly and flings the door open.
"Oh and Willow was right," I call after him. "You are a poop-head."
He slams the door.
I turn back to the paper. I have twelve minutes now to get this done. Something even I can't do. I just hope Dr. Walsh will be more pleased that I've made contact with The Target than dissapointed that I didn't get all the papers graded.
"Homo-Boobius," I mutter. Then I chuckle. "That's funny."
Disclaimer: All this belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Inc. (Gosh, he's actually trying to fix it. Too little too late Joss.)
Drain Brameged Inc. Proudly Presents
A Mad-Hamlet Production
Dianna Wears Red
Its nine forty five and I'm stalking out the library, head down, staring at my feet to make sure I don't accidentally make eye contact with anyone. I'm intent on getting to my dorm as fast as I can; I need to take a shower. Beside me Buffy is skipping around and around me as I walk.
Her hair flouncing around gaily, this big grin is on her very flushed face; even in the fresh air and light breeze I can smell it…which is why I really need to take a shower. She's also getting annoying. Halfway to the dorm she starts humming a light and jaunty tune and that's about all I can handle.
"Buffy," I hiss at her. "Could you possibly be less of a spectacle?"
She freezes in mid skip and stares at me a second silently. "Uh…Will, what did I…?"
I shake my head slightly and don't let myself sigh out loud. "Nothing, Buffy, forget it."
I start walking even faster, not sure how much time I have left; one of these days I really should buy a watch.
"Well, showers are good," Buffy says hurrying to catch up to me. "Lots to do in showers."
"Yes," I reply nodding but still staring at my feet. "Like using soap, and maybe shampoo."
"Skin gets slippery with soap," Buffy…almost purrs.
"Enough!" I say sharply spinning to face her.
She stops cold at my shout, rocking back on her feet. "Wha?"
"I mean enough," I say more quietly now. Don't want to draw any more attention. "It's enough okay? Enough innuendo enough double meaning, enough games!"
"But…but…" Buffy stammers. "I thought you liked it."
"I did.' I say with a sigh. "I loved it."
Buffy's eyebrows knit. "Then what's the problem Will?"
I gape at her, she honestly didn't know? "You didn't ask. You just did it," I say quietly.
"You liked it!" She whines.
"Yes,' I nod. "Yes I did. I loved it, I love you."
"You're…" Buffy's eyes grow wide. "I did NOT force you!" she snarls.
"No, no, no." I say quickly. "No you didn't." she visibly relaxes, letting her shoulders slump.
'But you didn't ask me either," I finish. She tenses up instantly. I reach out for her hand but she pulls away. "We had fun!" she insists in a frustrated voice.
"Your fun," I whisper.
"But I love you!" She insists.
"And I love you, Buffy," I reply. "That will never change. It's just…you didn't listen!"
Buffy shakes her head, like she's shaking off an irritant. "We had fun," she repeats backing away.
"I said no…" I can't look at her for a second and when I do the expression on her face makes think about what I just said. What I implied.
"Buffy,?" I ask softly.
"Buffy?" I repeat starting to stand up and that's all I have time for. She spins and dashes off, a blur of speed.
I pause standing before the doors of the huge hardware store in front of me.
Honestly why did I leave my woods?
'Because,' that smart mouthed part of my mind informs me. 'The Council told you to and they have you over a barrel. Some mighty hunter you are!'
"Oh shut up," I grumble.
Around me people scuttle in and out of its doors like woodland creatures fleeing from or plunging into the maw of a great beast. The neon lights all over its glass facade remind me of eyes in the dark; the steel, plastic and glass, shining with the look of modern technology seems too proud, too overbearing. I feel truly unwelcome here which balances out I suppose. Those who made such a monstrosity would be most unwelcome in my home.
I take in a deep breath and hold it before approaching the electronic eye. The doors slide open with a hiss and the dry, cool air spills past me. I let the breath out of my lungs and shudder. The sterile, scentless air leaves me feeling queasy. I can't decide what's worse the polluted, foul stench outside or this total void of any scents whatsoever inside. I shake my head slightly and start looking for the electronics department.
The clerk behind the counter looks to be a high schooler, if that. Short brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, eyes flickering around her, putting off 'I'm so bored' vibed; yes, she's even chewing bubblegum loudly while sitting slouched behind the glass countertop . She notices as I approach and sits a bit straighter then she gets a good look at me and does a double take. I don't smile; I can't help it that I'm tall. When I get near her I sniff just a little. Even though it's not real and chemically produced the smell of her clean hair and skin is like a blessing in this place. I fight down the shiver that threatens to run along my spine.
I glance at her nametag, Gail, pretty name. She's not too bad looking. I can tell by her build she likes to run. She cranes her neck to maintain eye contact with me.
"Can I help you?" she says quietly.
I smile down at her, no teeth though. I lay my hands on the glass top just centimeters from her own finger tips; I can feel the heat from her skin. "Yes you can," I pause. "Gail."
Most people would be slightly annoyed if a stranger addressed them like old friends but Gail only flushes slightly.
"What can I do for you then…uh…." she fumbles looking for the label to use on me. I just put a finger across my lips. "Shhhh." I shush her gently. "Gail, I have a rather long list of products I need and you seem a capable young lady. Just the person to help me."
Gail doesn't move as I lean over the counter and stare down into her wide, upturned eyes.
"Uh…" she swallows convulsively never taking her eyes away from me." I think so," she says softly. "Do you have the list on you, I could check the back to see if we have everything you might want in stock."
I reach forward and only just brush my fingertips along her ear, then, with my hand still extended I snap my fingers and the list appears in my fingers like magic. "Here you are," I say gently laying it on the countertop.
With my other hand I reach down slowly and take one of her hands that have been resting on the countertop. Lifting her hand with mine I place the list in her slack, unresisting hand and curl her fingers around it.
"That's everything I need, Gail." My face is now mere centimeters from her own. The tips of our noses almost brushing. "Go and check the back, take your time," I smile showing my teeth. "Be thorough. I can wait."
Buffy wasn't in our room when I took the quick shower after the…stuff…at the Library. She wasn't as the classes we shared this morning either.
Now I'm sitting here in the quad, alone with my bought lunch before me. I sit at my bench and watch the hot steam rising off the burger and fries, the ice cubes in my coke clink gently as they melt but there is room in my tummy for appetite. It's all full of cold scrunchy feelings and empty places that food can't fill.
Will someone explain to me how one tummy can be all these things at the same time but not want food? Why doesn't it want to be filled up with yummy if not exactly nutritious fast food goodness? No. Don't answer that, I know it already. It wants to…the hole in my stomach wants to be filled with fuzzies. That little trill I get when Buffy smiles at me because of something I said, or accidentally said or said wrong. It wants…I want to feel that warmth when for no reason at all Buffy grabs my hands in her own and squeezes or when she caresses my cheek gently her hand. We can be anywhere, alone or not, sitting or not and she'll just stop what she's doing if she's doing anything and cup my face in her hands, staring me in the eyes with such intensity. Then she'll gently let me go and just barely touch my face with her fingertips, dragging this halfway contact up the curve of my cheek and behind my ear before pulling away. Then she'll just smile one of those brilliant smiles at me and return to whatever it was she was doing before.
I'd give anything if I turned around and she'd be standing in front of me, looking down at me then cup my face in her hands. I'd give anything at all.
I know she's not behind me, I know she's not there; that if she was I'd know by now but I turn around anyway with my heart leaping expectantly. She's not of course and all I do see is some other students hurrying to a nearby bench to wolf down their food before getting back on the academic trail. I should feel disappointed, the acid in my cold empty tummy shouldn't leap about and burn me; I shouldn't become even more depressed because I knew the entire time she wasn't there.
But it does.
I stand up, grab my tray and toss the whole thing, tray included, into the nearest trashcan. Slinging my backpack over my shoulder I start to walk to where I always go when I need to get away, the library.
After a half step I stop. I can't go back there. Not like this it…it just doesn't work. It wouldn't be right. I've got…I glance at the clock on the tower, about twenty five minutes until my next class. I'm going to do something, I'm going to be proactive for a change and not just wait for things to happen. I'm going to find Buffy.
I think about heading back to our dorm first but that's too obvious, as I'm walking aimlessly I pass a phone booth. Hmmm, maybe Buffy went home. Nah, that would mean she'd have to explain to her Mom why she's home when she should be in class. Okay…well maybe she got hungry. She wasn't in the quad but she could be in the cafeteria.
I arrive there quickly and push the double doors open. Instantly I'm bombarded by the sounds of hundreds of young people talking at once. All the tables are packed and I have trouble pushing through the mass. I scan the room quickly but can't see Buffy anywhere. I'm pretty sure she'd stand out a bit, particularly at these crowded tables since she'd be all alone yet sitting near others. I walk from one end to the other, brushing by people trying to squeeze past me anxiously checking the faces of all the people sitting at the tables. I don't see her anywhere.
'Okay,' I think to myself. 'Maybe the bathroom.'
I enter the woman's restroom and try to be casual as I look around the place. There are a couple girls standing in front of the mirrors, checking their makeup or their hair. Whatever. Just to fit in I step up to a sink and let the water run over my hands then splash a little on my face. A tiny part of me is cringing in my mind, expecting any of these other girls to maybe start something. Maybe they were their at the quad a few days ago when Buffy and I kissed in public. Nobody does though and since I'm not going to hang around until everyone who might be in them comes out of the stalls I leave.
So Buffy isn't in the cafeteria, won't check the Library….not at home either.
My classes start soon but….
I sit down on the nearest bench and let put my head in my hands. If she's not on campus I don't know what I'm going to do.
There's a good chance she'll come from that direction. It's closest to the college and the treeline runs right along the edge of the cemetery. I know for a fact that she likes to stay in the trees. Tactically it makes sense to a point but her obsession with it puts it under the instinct category in my book; and in my job it's instincts that help me more than they do my prey.
Most of the time.
I settle back on my haunches and let my weight rest on the wall of the mausoleum I'm hiding behind. I reach in my bag o'tricks and pull out the linchpin. This better do the job because the 'net' behind me will only slow her down for a few seconds. If this final punch fails I'm in big trouble.
I glance at the sun which is rapidly sinking below the horizon; shouldn't be too much longer now; though I think I'll check the 'net' again, just to be sure all the contacts are in place. I ease around the corner and climb the tree where the trigger for the 'net' is. Flipping over the trigger I make sure both contacts are surely fashioned and they're not going to tear free at the worst possible moment. Nope, looks good to me.
I leap down from the tree. I roll with the impact and come up standing. "Ta-dah!" I say to no one. "A perfect dismount. Judges score: Nine, nine point five, nine point three," I'm interrupted by a vampire stepping out from behind the shadow of another tree. "And a six from the Romanian Judge." I say. My arm comes up, the mini-crossbow on my wrist triggers, and the vamp falls down. "Poor Romanian judge," I cluck my tongue.
The sun has set at last. I move through the bushes and the weeds, past forgotten and hopefully peaceful graves to the other parts of the 'net'. I check each and every piece. All seems well enough. I can't activate it too early or too late though because if something else should trigger it my prey will know about it a long way off and I'd have to start all over.
Hmmm…or it could draw her closer. But I don't have a trap within a trap. If I could use my dart gun I might have a chance but all I have is this thing. I pat the heavy medal rod strapped to my side; were the Slayer fully functional this would be as good as a…well my fists. I move back to my place behind the mausoleum. Bending over I grab some handfuls of earth and dirt and grind them into my skin. I am particularly careful to really dirty the areas behind my ears and in my arm pit; this should make it more difficult for her to smell me out. Crumbling the last of the earth into the palms of my hand I slip on the heavy work gloves I brought with me.
The moon is rising now, I can see its white light flicking through the trees on the horizon. Now is as good a time as any I suppose. I activate the 'net'.
Now all there is to do is wait.
I couldn't find her.
I spent the entire afternoon looking for her. Blew off my classes(Can't believe I did that.) and checked out all of hers. Not fun spending an afternoon having grouchy professors glaring at you or asking questions like, 'Who are you young lady and why are you interrupting my class?'. What am I supposed to say?
'Jee, sorry Mr. Professor sir, but my lesbian lover has run off because we got in a small argument after having sex in the library. I'm worried she's turning a little to animalistic for my tastes.'
Yeah, I'm sure that'd go over real well.
I'm tired, I've missed my classes, the strap on my book bag has dug what I think is a permanent trench in my shoulder, I'm hungry and my feet hurt.
This is all Buffy's fault.
God, I miss her so much!
The sun is beginning to set and I've looked everywhere. She could be at home, the thought has been dancing around all day in my head but it would be so not like her to rush home to get away. Maybe she came home by now; I can at least check. It's not like I've got anywhere else to look save the woods. Walking quickly it takes me about ten minutes to reach the entrance to our Hall. The entire way I can't help but peek in the shadows of bushes or up through the rapidly darkening canopies of trees…just in case.
I reach the front doors and push them open. I pause. Look over my shoulder one last time and see the last of the sun slip away. Night officially starts now; time to go inside.
I climb the stairs to the second floor slowly, I try and get a good look at all the long haired, blonde, women sitting on the various sofas and love seats…I know she's not here…what else can I do?
I insert my key in the lock…it isn't latched. My heart skips a beat, I can feel a grin pulling at the corners of my mouth.
"Buffy?" I push the door open and-
Behind her bed the window is open, a strong breeze pushes the curtains inside the room, they billow and twist. On her bed lay her clothes, the gusts of wind are not strong enough to move them but the corners rustle and flutter a bit.
I silently close the door and turn off the lights.
Walking over to the clothes I lightly brush my fingertips across the surface of her shirt. "You even folded them," I say aloud.
I take off my clothes and slip into my favorite sleeping shirt and clean panties then I clamber onto Buffy's bed. I pick up the shirt she was wearing, hold it up to my face and inhale. It smells just like her. Caught in its fibers are her gentle, clean scents, soft and…strong. Just like she's strong and soft. Pulling her shirt over me as a make shift blanket I lie down and stare out the open window, at the moon.
Now all there is to do is wait.
First I hear her,
Then I smell her,
Finally I see her.
She's not even trying to be stealthy.
She leaps from a branch within the woods to the one nearest the edge of the cemetery. Just as she reaches for a branch in mid air she triggers the 'net'. Passing by the motion detectors she triggers about three different strobe lights that flare directly in her face. With a screech she freezes in mid air. Squawking in fear and panic she claws at nothing heading for the ground far too fast. At the same time six different speakers kick in screaming white noise from different directions. One above, another in front of her, another behind and one to either side. There should be one below her but…ouch. She just landed on it. Other strobes kick in adding to the disorientation and confusion as the sound bombardment coupled with the visual attack throws her enhanced senses off kilter.
That's how you hunt. Take the gifts of the prey and use them against it.
Covering her face with her forearms she flounders on the hard earth like a fish out of water. Her back arching and feet kicking in the dust. Jesus! She's going into spasms, she's not faking, this isn't a ploy to lure her attacker out she's in trouble! I leap to my feet and race from my place of concealment. Ripping the Velcro tabs that keep the stun wand strapped to my leg I whip it out to full extension. I try and grab her shoulder and flip her over. I want place the charge directly on her spine, anything less might just snap her out of it; also best chance of knocking her out. Right up the nervous system, zap.
Her flailing arm nearly takes my head off.
I pull back just out of time. The cacophony is deafening. Good thing I wore earplugs and goggles.
I leap forward again, make the grab and flip her over. I pin her to the ground with one knee across her lower back; my other foot I shove into the backs of her knee. Realistically she could throw me off without any effort but she's too busy trying not to choke to death on her own tongue. I bend over and grab her by the hair, pulling her hear head back. This is uncomfortable I bet however it clears her airway, makes sure she doesn't choke. I whip the stun wand around and jam the live end directly against the skin over her spin, leaning into I push the tip hard and release the charge.
All her muscles tense and she trembles violently as the charge short circutes the voluntary muscle control in her brain. Then she slumps, relaxed and quite unconscious. I disable the net with the remote and take a few deep breaths. My left knee is shaking a bit. Heh, adrenaline.
'Well," I say to the now captured prey. "That was fun."
I nudge her gently in the calf with the toe of my boot. She doesn't budge. Bending over her slightly I take off my gloves and press two fingers to the pulse in her neck and count off the beats. Seems okay; which is good as I don't want to her permanently. My instructions were clear.
I grab her arms and legs and sling her over my shoulder, oof…for such a small thing she's compact as hell. Well I guess an light n' bouncy hoity toity type wouldn't make a good slayer. Or a long lasting one at any rate.
I carry her behind the mausoleum where the rest of my stores are and lay her on the ground. She rolls over and lands face up, there's a muffled grunt as she hits the ground and pale moonlight splashes across her skin. Asleep she doesn't look like a threat. Long hair spread out, soft lips…as I watch her they twitch a little bit as if she's smiling in her dreams.
"Poor kid," I shake my head slightly. "Fate sure is a messed up bitch."
I grab a blanket from my bag and lay it flat on the ground. Picking up The Slayer again I lay her on one edge and then just roll her across the blanket, it along with her until she's cocooned within; snug as a bug in a rug. My Mom used to tell that to me before she tucked me in at night.
I miss her.
"Regrettably kid," I say patting the now bundled Slayer. "While you're snug you're not safe. Sorry 'bout that."
Bending over I hoist her over my shoulders again and carry her off to the rendezvous.
It takes me about three quarters of an hour to reach the location where I'm to deliver The Slayer. Predictably The Council has taken refuge in an old warehouse on the southern edge of Sunnydale.
I walk up to the heavy metal gate sealing the building off and give a few swift kicks. The hollow boom of my boots impacting on rusty sheet metal echo through the darkness. After a few seconds rusty wheels begin to protest and their use and the large garage door beings to rise, loudly. Jeezus, why don't these bozos just hang a big sign out reading 'Clandestine Temporary HQ Of Bad Guys Here'?
Ugly yellow light spills out onto the street, bending over I enter the warehouse before the door is high enough to walk through. I'm careful not to bang the prey on the edge of the door. Several large, darkly dressed and generally unhappy looking men stand on either side of the entrance. They stare with heavy scowls on their faces as if they disapprove of me, which, come to think of it, they probably do.
I walk past them, dim lights way up in the ceiling far overhead cast pools of murky light separated by large areas of shadow.
"Ah, if it isn't our beloved Hunter." The Council's contact steps out of one of the darker pools. Oh hooray, it's my little friend from the resteraunt. I'm surprised he wasn't oozing out from under a rock. "Missions successful I trust?"
"No, I'm just lugging The Slayer around for fun," I reply motioning to the burden across my shoulder with my free hand.
"A blanket?" He seems surprised. "How quaint, you protected her modesty, for the moment. Was she difficult to capture?"
I roll my eyes at his false genteelism. "No, s'why you hired me though isn't it."
Fatty chuckles slightly, "Not hired, called in a favor more like."
I shrug and place the prey on the ground and give the rolled up cloth a gentle push. The carpate unrolls spilling her across the cement floor, her limbs flop about as she tumbles, her arms and legs hitting the ground with gentle smacks.. "Well favors done, I'm outta here."
He stares down at her for a few seconds, shaking his head and clucking his tongue in disapproval. "She is not bound, that was careless."
I hawk deeply and spit on his polished shoes, behind me I hear feet sliding across the pavement as his goons take positions. "It was a choice," I say conversationally. "Sorta like hawking a goober on your shoes. Now you have a choice. You can either call off your dogs," I jerk a thumb over my shoulder, "Or you can watch them die."
He stares at me for a few seconds before breaks into a huge smile. He claps his hands together softly. "Bravo," he says. "Marvelous. I believe I understand. My apologies for questioning your skills, I meant no offense."
I smile at him as if all is well, damnit I was sure he'd go for it and I could kill him. The fact that this pus filled boil lives is a constant itch in my brain. "Well, I can't say it was a swell time because it wasn't." I say with a wave. "Don't get up, I'll see myself out."
I'm almost to the door and half believing I've actually made it out but then, like clockwork….
"Actually," short, squat and ugly, calls after me. "Our deal is not quite concluded."
I close my eyes, clench my fists and count to ten…backwards…in Hindu. Doesn't help.
"Yes?" I say gently trying not to grind my teeth.
"I'm afraid we have need of your services just a tiny bit longer," he says. "After all what better addition to our security could we have than the one who captured her in the first place?"
I try not to laugh as I walk back to him. "Buddy," I say maintaining a straight face. "If she busts out I'll be about as helpful as a Kleenex is in the middle of typhoon."
He laughs slowly and spreads his hands wide. "Indulge me," he says quietly.
He takes my silence as an asquesiance. "Would you be so kind as to place The Slayer in her quarters for the duration of her stay?" He says to me.
"What's wrong," I sneer. "All your pretty boys worried about the big bad Slayer?"
"And well they should be," He purrs.
Okay, point for him. "Yeah, you're right." I shrug. "Guess they're not as dumb as you look."
He only smiles. Damn these British types! What does it take to get a reaction out of them?
I bend over and pick the Slayer back up, this is getting repetitive. "This way please," Fatty says gesturing into the back of the warehouse. "Into the dark," I mumble to myself.
"Pardon?" He looks at me with polite interest.
I just shake my head.
I follow him into the back and find myself staring at a small…room I guess built in the middle of the warehouse. It appears to be about twelve feet by twelve feet made out of solid steel plate. There's only one door and five separate heavy bolts, each with their own lock, holding it shut. My 'host' fishes into the breast pocked of his suit and takes out a small ring of keys, five different keys I note. Unlocking each bolt he throws the door open and harsh white light spills out of the doorway. The inside is incredibly bright. Stepping through the doorway I take in the interior. What there is of it. It's bare, completely empty of anything save for one steel table bolted to the floor and in the middle of the table lies a large box; oh and a small drain drilled in the far corner. I suppose that's their idea of 'sanitary'.
"Do not touch the box please," Fatty says from behind me. "Just place The Slayer on the ground, gently now. We wouldn't want to bruise her would we?"
'No,' I think to myself. 'But we'd just love to bruise you, maybe bounce you off a few walls too.'
I set The Slayer down on the cold steel floor and start to turn away.
"Ah, ah, ah,"The contact shakes his head, "Everything she needs is within these four walls and I myself am outside. Together we shall guide her out of her troubles."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" I ask.
"It means do not leave the blanket in there with her," he replies pointing behind me.
I stare at him hard for a few seconds but he doesn't budge. He's got guts, someday I'll show them to him.
Without a word I bend down and snatch the blanket from off The Slayer I don't say anything while I'm doing it as I'm trying very hard to suppress my gag reflex.
I step through the doorway and take one look back at the small blond girl that everyone is so interested in.
"Willow?" She says still deeply unconscious. "stop…stop all that hoggin' o'the coverz, I'm gettin' cold."
The heavy steel door swings shut with a clang.
END- Second Test
Disclaimer: All this belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Inc. (Much to their regret I'd wager)
Drain Brameged Inc. Proudly Presents
A Mad-Hamlet Production
Dianna Wears Red
"Why am I still here?" I say with a sigh.
The fat little member of the Council who seems to be in charge just smiles at me indulgently. "As I mentioned hours ago, your services are still required for added security." He tilts his head back and stares at the ceiling thoughtfully. "You did capture her after all and it would make sense to have the one responsible for the capture of the Feral additionally responsible for her continued incarceration while we try to help her."
"You're so generous," I sneer.
"And altruistic," he adds nodding.
"You've got her in a twelve by twelve steel box!" I say rolling my eyes. "You don't need me here anymore. Let me go. I've completed my side of the agreement."
The greasy ball of lard waves his finger in the air, one of the tiny silver rings he wears on his pudgy hands glitter in the poor light. "Not quite," he purrs. "The stipulations for the contract state the capture of The Slayer and as long as the Council Member in charge deems. That would be me."
"Fine," I growl. "How long is this supposed to take?"
"Not long," he replies. "The therapy will either bring back the human from within or…" his voice drifts away and he shrugs helplessly.
"Or she dies." I finish for him.
"Sad but true," he nods using a sympathetic tone of voice. "Either way though the Council's interests are served."
A nagging thought enters my mind, something I had meant to pursue more closely but had overlooked. "What," I say slowly. "What exactly does this 'therapy' involve?"
Lard ball shifts his weight from foot to foot, tapping his index fingers against his pursed lips as if thinking terribly deep thoughts. After a moment he sighs, "Come with me."
He leads me to the back of the warehouse. Behind the steel box that now houses the still unconscious Slayer is a small control room. He enters the small room and flips on a few switches. I can hear generators begin to whine as if building a charge and the lights in the warehouse dim for a moment. Along the back wall of the room are a series of monitors. These he activates with a flip of his pudgy fingers. As the monitors warm up I can see the inside of the cell where the Slayer is still sleeping. The cameras cover every possible angle.
"All the cameras have one hundred and eighty degree range." He explains proudly. He sounds like a salesman. "They're recessed within in the walls and encased behind armored glass. While she could, with effort probably, get to them she does not know exactly where they are, nor will she get the chance."
Reaching for the control panel he grabs a tiny joystick and moves it around. The camera on one of the monitors, the one directly over the slayer pans back and forth across her naked body. He pushes a button on the top of the joystick and the camera zooms in on her breast and even more as it pans across her crotch.
"She really is a lovely creature," The fat little man says in a totally even voice. I'll give him points for self control; but I can still smell it on him, he likes this. He's looking forward to it; I feel sick.
"What does this have to do with the therapy?" I say a little too loudly.
"Oh that," he replies turning away from the monitor. "It's simple really; also within the cage-"
"Cell," I interrupt.
"Excuse me?" He asks politely.
"It's a cell," I repeat. "You put animals in cages, not people."
"How quaint," He says. "Well right now she is in danger of becoming an animal, which is why I am here. But for the sake of argument: The Cell is also live."
"Live?" A slight chill settles in my bones.
"Yes," He nods. "It's totally wired so every square inch of the floor can conduct an electric charge," He beams at me as if proud of the fact. "Not enough to cause permanent damage but enough to cause pain, even to one such as her." His gaze turns back to the monitor. "It's for her own good you realize."
I clench my fists tight, my nails biting into the palms of my hands; I'm not surprised to feel blood oozing between my fingers.
"We also have concealed speakers within that- Oh, fortune smiles," He points at one of the monitors. "Sleeping beauty awakens. Now I can save myself the effort of explaining everything and simply demonstrate."
On the monitor The Slayer sits upright slowly, one hand pressed to her temple. "Willow?" I hear her voice crackle through the speakers.
Fat Man reaches over and presses a large red button, I hear the increased whine of generators then The Slayer screeches loudly, her body arches off the floor till only her fingers and the tips of her toes still have contact. The muscles in her throat stand out in stark contrast as she tries to find the capacity to voice the pain.
After a few seconds the Council member releases the button and The Slayer collapses on the steel floor.
He wraps his chubby fingers around a microphone beside the camera control joystick and in the dim light of the control room I can see the sheen of sweat on his palms. He grips the microphone tightly. "Now that I have your attention, Slayer," He says clearly. "Here are your instructions. Before you is a table and on that table is a box. Inside the box are some clothes which you put on now."
The Slayer rolls over and pushes herself slowly to her feet. "Who…who are you?" Her voice is thick and the words come out slurred. "Whadya…what do you want?"
The Council member again pushes the red button. The Slayer's fresh scream comes through the speakers loud and clear as the electric charge courses through her body. After a moment he releases the button and The Slayer collapses. "Questions will not be tolerated," He says into the mike. "Hesitation will not be tolerated. Disobedience will not be tolerated. There will be obedience. You will open the box and you will put the clothes on. Now."
Flicking off the microphone he turns to me. He's smiling. A rather pleasant smile, I've seen demons from hell; I've seen rabid bears that had to be put down, but I've not seen anything so terrifying in a very long time. "It's quite simple really," he says calmly. "She is given a clear order and will receive repeated and lengthier punishment until she obeys. Negative reinforcement you understand."
I swallow a few times trying to gather enough saliva to reply. It takes a few seconds. "Of course," I say.
He turns away with a nod and flicks on the mike again, "Obey," he says sharply.
The Slayer looks around, trying to find the source of the voice I guess, "Fuck you!" she snaps.
He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly through his nose then reaches over and presses the red button again. Still holding it he turns to me, "If you'll excuse me I have to give this matter my full attention." He's still leaning on the button.
"Sure," I say carefully. "The sun will be up soon, I'll go give the perimeter a check." I have to speak loudly to be heard over The Slayer's shrieks.
"An excellent suggestion," he replies already looking back at the monitor. He takes his finger off the button and turns the microphone back on, "You will open the box and you will put the clothes on," he says into it.
Heading for one of the side doors to the warehouse I grab the rusty doorknob and open it slowly. I step across the threshold out into the predawn gloom of early morning. The door swings shut behind me, latching into place with a quiet click. And through all sound proof walls, armored glass and the warehouse itself I can still hear- but that's not really important is it.
I said I was going to check the perimeter and that's what I'm going to do. Even if is a complete waste of time; why should this part of my little 'mission' be any different? I jog across the open space to the warehouse directly across from the one where my ex-prey is receiving the best in hospitable service. There's an old ladder on the side that I scramble up, damn, it'll take a lot of work to get those rust stains out. Upon reaching the roof I crawl across the metal roof on my belly until I reach the crest.
Far to the east the first sliver of the rising sun can be seen; the horizon of buildings, lamps, church towers and houses are outlined in orange light. From this distance, in the orange glow or sunrise this town actually looks like an accomplishment, something to be proud of.
But I'm not here for the view. I scan the horizon, but all I see are the surrounding warehouses stretching away into vague shapes in the gloom. I lie still and I wait.
Five minutes become ten, ten becomes thirty. There.
One of them must have gotten bored because outlined against the now risen sun I see a man shaped figure break from the shadows and move across a distant roof. This member of the Council meets up with another. They're talking I think, one of them offers the other something, cigarette maybe; that or a joint. Wouldn't be surprised. Shifting away from the rising sun I face the west.
There, another guard on that warehouse roof. No, two.
I shift again and carefully scan the northern rooftop. Nothing, at least nothing I can see and if I can't see anything I very much doubt there is anything to be seen. No point in checking the south, the Watcher's warehouse, slash hotel, slash headquarters, slash torture house, is the southernmost warehouse; just empty lots beyond that.
I mark the position of the four guards, two to the east, and two to the west. Then I shimmy back across the sloping rooftop, down the ladder and back across the paved road to the main warehouse. I open the door again and ease my way inside.
Heading for the tiny control room, cause I'm sure that's where Fat Man is going to be, I open the door and peek inside.
Yep, there he is alright.
In the tiny room the monitors are the only illumination; the bright glow gives his skin a pale reptilian sheen; there is sweat on his forehead and his eyes are gleaming. I could smell him the second I entered the warehouse again.
"Ah," he says without taking his eyes off the monitor. "Perimeter secure I trust?"
"Sure thing," I reply casually. "How goes your little pet project?"
"As planned," he says, he steps away from the monitors and gestures to them. "See for yourself."
I don't want to. I don't particularly have too but it would help me if this slug thought I was on 'his side'. So I look.
I was right, I shouldn't have.
Inside the cell the Slayer has pressed herself into a corner. In the ceiling. She's bracing herself with her hands and feet pressed against the wall, using sheer muscle power to hold herself off the ground, away from the electrified floor. The downside of her strategy is her legs are spread and she's still naked. It takes effort but I manage not to look away.
"This is progress?" I ask.
Fat Man shrugs. "I allow her small victories, it gives her hope and that is a hope that I can, when I wish, crush. As it is, the view is…" he pauses and purses his lips. "Enjoyable." He says slowly.
He glances at me, "If you go for that sort of thing," he says hastily. He doesn't want to offend me, how nice.
I choose my next words with care. "Hey," I say with a shrug of my own. "Fun's fun."
He turns to me, smiles, showing all his teeth in the process. "Yes," he says, his voice a horse, choked whisper. "Fun is fun."
He turns back to gazing at the monitor. "And now?" I ask.
"Now we let her win," he replies. "She'll stay up there until exhausted. Then I shall repeat the commands and punish her when she refuses." His eyes flicker to me and back to watching the screen. I school my expression to one of careful neutrality.
"This cycle will repeat several times, punishment, rebellion, exhaustion," Fat Man continues. "Then I'll let her recover for a short time; giving more hope to her, sowing weakness."
"And then?" I gently prod.
"The cycle will resume but I will change it," He says slowly. He stares at the monitors hungrily.
"Care to elaborate?"
"Instead of allowing her to resist I shall activate the second phase of the therapy," He smiles at the screen. I glance at it and see the Slayer's head has slumped slightly. The tendons in her legs and arm are trembling slightly.
Fat Man leans over the microphone, "You will go to the box on the table. You will open the box." He instructs.
The Slayer's head whips around toward the camera, she knows where it is, and she knows where we're watching her from. I stare at her, and she, through the camera stares at me. The image is tiny, grainy and black and white. But I know, I know her eyes are blue. And angry.
Then she bares her teeth; her lips pulled back, teeth clenched together and the corners of mouth stretched upward. It's a smile. A hideous, proud, fierce smile. The muscles in her frame tense and the trembling stops. Fat Man grins slightly. "So predicable," he sighs.
He didn't see it. Or if he did he didn't understand it.
Fat Man turns his attention to me, "So as I was saying; the second phase involves auditory and visual bombardment. Discordant noise and flashing pattern less lights. Ultra-sonic bombardment will throw her inner ear off and the visual onslaught will make thinking impossible. However, the subconscious will be susceptible to suggestion." He grins suddenly. "This will cut down on the voyeuristic enjoyments but there are other forms of fun."
I want to take a bath.
I want to take a bath in a clear, ice cold mountain stream far, far away from humans.
I nod, "Sounds effective."
"Oh it is," he replies. "I've been trying for some time to have such training made mandatory for all newly discovered Slayers but there is a softer element in the Council these days."
He shrugs, "Still there's the now."
"I'm hungry," I interrupt. "I'm going to get something to eat."
"Very well," he says absently his full attention back on the monitor. "Don't be long."
"Not my call," I reply heading for the exit, I make it a point to walk casually. "If the prey is cooperative I could be back before noon, if not I'll be back before dark."
He glances at me, "That's hardly satisfactory," he says.
I return his stare and meet it, "That's the way it is."
He licks his lips nervously; at least I hope its nerves. He's silent for a time.
"Very well," he says finally. "By dark."
"By dark," I repeat.
"Have fun," He calls out to me.
"This is feeding," I say before the door shuts. "That's fun," I point to the monitor.
He only laughs.
She didn't come home.
She was supposed to come home. She was supposed to leap through the open window and gather me up in her arms. Everything was supposed to be alright after she came home. We'd had that fight in front of the library and she stalked off and I tried to find her and when I couldn't, which was no big surprise, I came home and went to sleep.
She should have woken me up in the middle of the night with a big fluffy hug. A big fluffy hug that I would have returned and we'd have done the hugging to tell each other that everything was all better but we didn't because she didn't. Come home.
Okay…okay relax. She could have gone to her mom's. Or Xander's. Yeah that's it, she was upset and needed more down time then I thought. She's probably just gone to her mom's and had a quiet night. There's absolutely no chance that something has happened to her or she's hurt or been killed by- Oh God!
Where is she!? Where is Buffy? I know she didn't go home. We had a small argument; it wasn't a major thing, it wasn't a terrible thing it wasn't a bad bad no good thing it was just a small thing and it wouldn't have, couldn't have resulted in her needing to spend the night somewhere else! Something's happened! I know it! I know it, I don't know how I know but I know and she needs me, she has to need me! She needs me and I have to do something but…but….how? I couldn't find her when…what do I do?
I…I'll call Giles. He'll know what to- He won't have a clue. Probably want to do something involving books and asking all sorts of nosey questions. I don't want to tell him about the argument or my worries about Buffy's behavior. He'd probably associate it with that 'feral' thing he's so worried about. Ever since he brought it up he's been doing major duty research despite all our claims that everything is okay. Or it was.
I…I got it! The search spell. The one I was going to do last night! I'll do it now! I'll find her and help her and then we…yes!
I leap out of the bed and sit cross-legged on the floor. I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths, I'm trying to relax, find my center all the inner peace stuff.
"Remember," I say to myself. "Magic works best when there is a focus."
The second the words are out of my mouth a mental picture hits me across my head; Buffy hurt, bloody, lying somewhere in the dark too weak to move or call for help. All she can do is stare at the dark over her head and wish that someone would-
"Aradiagoddessofthelostthepathismurkythewoodsare densedarknesspervadesIbeeschtheebringthelightNOW!!" I blurt quickly.
My eyes fly open and before me, like the night when I had to find Buffy, the night everything began, there is a ball of light floating before me. Unlike the other it is deep red and about the size of a baseball. It bobs around sluggishly, almost resentful of having been summoned.
I'd feel bad about the lousy calling but I simply don't have the time! Staring at the ugly ball in front of me I glare at it, as if daring it to keep up with the attitude. "Lead me to Buffy," I say fiercely. "Quickly."
The light turns and begins to drift toward the window then pauses. It drifts back and forth looking a bit uncertain then starts to shake.
"What are you waiting for?" I demand. "Take me to her, take me to Buffy!"
Its shaking gets worse until its just an indistinct red blur. I take a step toward it, ready to try hitting it like someone upset at their computer. It flashes bright red and I cover my eyes instinctively. There's a quiet pop and when I peek out from behind my arms the guide is gone.
"What?" the words escape aloud.
It couldn't…it couldn't find her! That means…it means she's not here! She's dead! No! She can't be…she can't be dead no! I..I don't believe it, I won't believe it! I jump to my feet, yank the door open and dash down the hall. I think I'm saying something, I'm not sure…just..no! No no no no no no!!
I leap down the stairs to the main lobby. Usually in the mornings someone has bought the local paper. Yes! I grab it from the hands of a student.
"Hey!" He protests. "What do you think-"
"I need this!" I hiss at him. He stares at me, swallows and nods dumbly. I ignore it, I ignore everything; I flip through a few pages, scanning the headlines. There's nothing there about bodies being found. Around me the murmuring of people grows a little louder. I ignore it; I'm too busy because I have to find out, I have to know if….DAMNIT!
"There's nothing in here!" I shout crumpling the paper up and throwing it across the room. "It's useless!" I spin around to return to my room, I gotta think of something. There's got to be something I can do, I refuse to accept the possibility that Buffy is…is….
"No!" I cry aloud. "I won't believe it!"
Right in the faces of a small crowd of gathered students who are all staring at me. "Get out of my way," I snap at them, and they part before me as I stalk up the stairs. I know what they're staring at. I just got out of bed so all I'm wearing is an oversized T-shirt and my underwear. So what? Let them stare, I have to find Buffy!
Soon I leave the hustle and bustle of Sunnydale awakening to a brand new day far behind. Into the deep woods I plunge, heedlessly, recklessly, trying to lose in the green and light of the forests her furious eyes.
I'd seen eyes like that before; on the features of a cornered bear, a tree'd mountain lion, all numbers of examples.
'You will not win,' that look always whispered in my mind. 'I will be free.'
I'd never really believed it, after all I was the one who had cornered the bear or trapped the lion in the tree; but now…. Now I think I believe.
I shake my head violently, "No," I say firmly. "No flipping out now, we're outside, we're hungry, and we're going to get something to eat."
With some effort I begin to move quietly through the woods; tracking…searching. 'Like she should be doing,' my mind whispers.
I think I'll bang my head against a tree, that'll shut up that annoying voice. On second thought I'd prefer to not have a headache.
With practiced patience I stalk the woods; I'm silent as I move but it takes effort which bothers me. I've done this for so long it should be, usually is, natural. Something is off but I don't know what it is.
That's it. Time to bang the head.
I head for the nearest tree. It's an oak, old, solid looking. "No offense old timer," I whisper patting the rough bark. "Just got a few wires crossed."
Then I see it. A deer. A buck I think, somewhat young but strong. It's nibbling on some shoots, fully intent on what it's doing. Either I was actually quiet or I got lucky; either way there's my breakfast.
Reaching for my boot I carefully and slowly pull out the knife I keep strapped there. Running my thumb along the blade I insure what I already know, that the blade is sharp; for a quick, clean kill.
Easing around the tree I step silently toward my prey. Looks like there is enough meat on those flanks to keep my supplied for a day or three. It's not easy sneaking up on a deer with only a knife to kill, but I left my other stuff at the warehouse and it's not like I haven't done it before.
I take a deep, quiet, breath, hold it for a ten count and then let it out slowly. I center myself, pull in my presence. I am now part of the woods, part of the backdrop, there is no hunter here, there is nothing here but the trees, leaves, small bushes, lichen and the deer.
It doesn't react, its ears do not flicker, its eyes do not blink, it just bends its head again nibbling at the plant.
I take another step.
Still no reaction, no sense of danger; I am not invisible; I am not here at all. There is nothing but the breeze blowing against my face, the woods and the deer.
A third step. I could stretch out my hand and brush my fingers along its back; if I wanted to pet it, if I wanted to touch it I could. I have to reach its throat though. One more step and I can wrap my forearm around its neck and then one quick slash…it'll be all over.
I step…my foot lands on a dry branch. The snap is tiny, barely audible at all. The wind is blowing in the trees, the birds are singing from the branches; squirrels dig for nuts and store them in their cheeks, chattering and squabbling with each other as they do so. No, the snap of the branch underneath my heel makes almost no sound at all compared to all the others.
The deer leaps away, like an arrow from a bow, its legs carry it out of my reach, over the hedge and its gone, deep into the green.
With a sigh I slump to the ground.
"Shit!" I say aloud this time slamming my knife back into its sheath. "I'm better than this!"
Everything has gone quiet now; no birds, no wind, no squirrels…no deer. That means no breakfast.
"Something is off," I grumble. "Something is really off!"
And I know what it is, and I know what I have to do.
Damnit, this is going to really complicate my life.
I'm sitting on the floor staring at the pieces of our new Mickey Mouse alarm clock. When Buffy killed our old we went out and bought another. She really didn't want it but I thought it looked so cheerful with its big plastic Mickey smile and those white puffy gloves that pointed at the numbers. Buffy let me get it mumbling about the pleasure she'd get watching Mickey dislocate his own shoulders for her amusement.
Buffy's not here though, I don't know where she is. My…my guide couldn't find her and that might…it might….
No. Won't think it! It isn't possible, not now, not yet, she's not, I mean…Buffy's not…
When I got back up to my room after stealing the newspaper Mickey was sitting on our bedside table, being all cheerful. His alarm went off, the second alarm, the one I set to remind me not to be late for classes. His alarm was a recording of him laughing, a bright, cheerful happy laugh.
'Ha Ha Ha,' It went. 'Ha Ha Ha!'
Without thinking I grabbed Mickey by his face and smashed him into the floor. And I smashed him, smashed him, smashed him and smashed him until he stopped laughing.
So Mickey's dead but Buffy isn't! She isn't…the guide; just because the guide couldn't find her doesn't mean anything. It was a- a- bad guide, that's right, that's what happened. I summoned a guide that was lazy and not very good at its job.
I should be…I could…that is….
One piece of plastic-Mickey-face catches my eye; part of its eye and half of its smile.
'Ha, Ha, Ha!' The memory of its laugh echoes in my memory.
ARRggghh!! I jump to my feet, grab the pieces of Mickey up in both hands and hurl them at the wall as hard as I can!
That was pointle- OW! I grab my head where one of the larger pieces just hit me after bouncing off the wall. Rubbing the spot I go to the mirror. No, no blood, just a little red spot.
God, I look terrible and…I sniff my sleeping shirt. What time is it anyway? I forgot to check before butchering Mickey. Walking across the room I flip open and wake up my lap top. Ten seventeen; my classes started hours ago and I didn't even notice. Mickey's alarm went off at…I've been staring at nothing, doing nothing for over an hour and a half! Buffy could be in trouble, she might be…be…who cares what, she could be in real trouble and here I've sat feeling sorry for myself. No more, I'm going to sit down and figure this out. The guide spell, yeah first I'll research the guide spell and find out exactly how it works, and then I'll know…well I mean something should…come up. No, I will find Buffy, I will help her because- Because I have too.
But first a shower.
It's the normality of what I'm doing that brings comfort; or at least denial. I'm standing in the shower letting the hot water pour over me. I'm not thinking about what I'm doing, I'm not thinking at all, my mind is blank, and my mind will be blank. Won't think about it, won't think about anything. Just going to get clean. I reach for the bottle of shampoo-
Buffy's lying on the ground behind some buildings; the morning sun right outside but it can't get into the narrow alley. Garbage mixing with her long blonde hair; head at an odd angle, tiny trickle of blood seeping out between her lips. Eyes open staring at nothing, empty blue eyes, flat like dead water. The words echoing off the dirty bricks still hours after she's stopped breathing. 'Help me Willow!'
No! The shampoo bottle slips from my fingers; I lunge after it and slip. We hit the same floor at the same time. Pain streaks up my arm and leg.
"No!" I shout pounding the floor, water splashes in my eyes. "No!" I say again, still hitting the floor. Using the pain in my hand to try and drive away the nightmare.
"She's not dead!" I hit the floor.
"She's not!" My hand is probably bleeding.
"She's not!" I scream.
I wipe the water…just water…out of my eyes. I see the shampoo lying a few inches away. I grab it and stand up slowly; my hand aches, my elbows ache and my legs aren't happy either. I ignore the pain and flip the cap on the bottle.
I concentrate on keeping my hand from shaking while pouring the shampoo into my palm. This is very expensive shampoo and I'm on a budget. I can't afford to waste any of this very expensive shampoo. Buffy would not be happy if I had to spend more money on my expensive shampoo-
That's it! I rinse the shampoo off my hand and then grab the bottle with both hands. Turning it upside down I squeeze it as hard as I can. A might surge of shampoo comes jetting out of the top and is quickly rinsed down the drain. I squeeze the bottle again and more of my shampoo washes away.
Only a little left.
This little bit of shampoo I pour into my hand and then, setting the now empty bottle down, I start washing my hair.
I've wasted all my expensive shampoo and now Buffy will have to come back and tell me how upset she is with me. It's simple now. Buffy can't be dead, she won't be dead, not now. She has a job to do.
I lather the soap in my hair and run my fingers through the suds. Mmm…that feels good. All the tension is just running down my body, out through my toes and going swirly down the drain. I think I'll sing.
"Gonna wash that death right outta my hair," I mumble. "Gonna wash that death right outta my hair and bring my Buffy back to me."
I can see it now. I'll walk back to our dorm room, maybe using the tip of my towel to get the last of the water out of my ear. I'll fish my keys out of my bathrobe pocket and push the door open. She'll be standing in the middle of the room. She'll…she'll be wearing her red jacket and white slacks…I love that outfit on her. Her legs will be spread slightly in a proud, stance. Her hair will glow in the rising sun, right outside our window. She'll be so…there. So vibrant. So full of life.
I close my eyes and lean back into the stream of hot water letting it rinse the soap out and taking away the last of my worries with it. I close my eyes and luxuriate in the sensation. It's so good to be perfectly content.
Buffy will walk across the room and grab my now empty bottle of shampoo. I haven't left it in the shower but will have brought it back with me. This is important because I'll take it to be recycled along with all the other plastic bottles.
"Didn't you just buy shampoo?" Buffy will ask me. She won't be angry, but she'll be staring at me, right in the eyes. Her look will be strong, powerful, full of force.
I'll want to look away but won't be able to. Her look will have me trapped; like in a vice. "Uh-huh." I whimper and nod. Maybe I'll even have my puppy-dog look.
"Willow," Buffy will say shaking the empty bottle under my nose forcefully. "You know this shampoo is very expensive. We can't afford it often."
"You're right," I reply. "I'm sorry."
Buffy will then drop the bottle; no she'll throw it over her shoulder. Then she'll put her arms around me and, with steady but gentle force, push me back against the door.
Our noses will be almost touching, her eyes never having left mine the entire time; they'll be glowing with life. "That's okay," She'll whisper. I'll more feel her words in the warmth of her breath than hear them. "But it's important you buy more of your expensive shampoo soon."
"Why's that?" I'll try to say, but I'll be so…so…I'll be almost stuttering.
"Because," Buffy will breathe, goose bumps will ripple across my back. "You smell delicious when you use it."
Then she'll close the distance between us and kiss me, holding me close with great force, kissing me, pushing me against the door and it will feel wonderful and we'll be full of life, together, no force will keep us apart ever again.
My eyes snap open. I've been leaning with my eyes closed under the water for so long the lights in the shower hurt. I blink until they adjust.
I can barely breathe. I understand now, why didn't I figure it out earlier?
"Rosenberg," I mutter aloud. "You are an idiot."
I grab my towel and bathrobe off the rack and run to the door of the shower before skidding to a stop. I nearly lose my balance on the slippery floor, pin wheeling my arms like crazy so as not to fall over.
Naked me plus Public Hallway equals very embarrassed Willow.
I halfway wrap my towel around me, yank the door open and run as fast as I can for the door of our room. Lucky me, nobodies around; probably all in classes. I reach our door and start digging through the pockets of my robe, trying to find the keys. My hands are wet and they keep slipping out of my grip.
I yank my door open then slam it behind me. I throw my bathroom supplies on my bed. Hm, left the shampoo bottle in the bathroom.
Screw the environment.
I know how to find Buffy!
I hustle over to my desk and grab one of my books on witchcraft. I want to flip through the pages, I want to find what I'm looking for and I want to find it now! But I don't. The book is very old and delicate. Their really isn't a table of contents either, just sections so I have to carefully turn the pages one by one. I have to examine each page slowly as my Latin is rusty and I'm probably going to tear one of the pages because my hands won't stop shaking and-
Better idea: Let's check online.
I sit down in the chair to my desk
And stand right back up again!
I forgot I'm still not dressed.
I reach into my closet and pull out the first thing I lay my hands on which I quickly slip over my head. Okay, I'm all set, ready to find what I need. I sit back down in front of my computer and logon. A few mouse clicks and searches later I have what I need.
And I know what I did wrong.
There on the screen before me is a clear explanation of the guide spell. I really have to bookmark this site.
The spell didn't work not because she was…. She wasn't. The spell was blocked. I should have picked up on that, even if…if…. Just If! The spell still would have taken me to her. It didn't, that means something is blocking my spells….that means something has…oh God and that could mean…Oh God!
I enter a search command for the archive for the spell I now seek, the one I should have thought of before. I've wasted so much time! There, there it is. I scan the page quickly…okay…seems simple enough. Nothing too exotic here like feathers or blessed beads just…just some chalk. Or a marker.
I print out the spell. Then going over to my book bag I dig around in my pencil box. No actual markers just…. Hope the powers won't be offended if I use my bright orange highlighter.
I pick up the scattered clothes that are on the floor and sweep what's left of Mickey under Buffy's bed. Then I carefully draw a circle, around me, using the highlighter; or I try to. The stupid thing refuses to leave a mark! This isn't fair! All I need a stupid circle…and I don't have any more markers and…and….
I scan the room, looking for anything that I could-
Buffy's makeup bag.
Leaping to my feet I unzip the tiny bag and pull out Buffy's lipstick. It's not the very expensive kind, just average. Not too dark, not too light; a nice, pale, pink color, kinda normal, for a girl who's anything but normal.
It's my favorite.
I take the cap off and inhale slightly; the familiar mixed berry scent…hurts. The silver tip of the lipstick goes all blurry, the emotions hit…so hard. Can't see very well…stupid tears…. She, Buffy, she was wearing this lipstick yesterday at the Library during….
I wipe my eyes with my freed hand and can't help but read the words written on the side of the tube.
'Guaranteed Smudge Proof'
I can't help it, I start to giggle, 'guaranteed'…right. Then I'm crying some more, right in mid-giggle but the giggles don't give way, so I'm crying and giggling at the same, sitting in the middle of the floor, rocking back and forth on my knees cradling a tube of lipstick.
I have to stop this; I have to finish…what I started.
Won't be distracted or…become lost. I'm not lost, I'm the one searching and I will find her, I will find Buffy. Now.
I wipe my eyes again, take a few breaths, stupid hiccups, okay…breath…breath…better. Okay, here we go. This probably will take a chunk out of our security deposit.
I twist the tube and using the pink lipstick draw a circle around me where I sit. Unbroken, whole, complete.
I sit down in the middle of the circle and close my eyes. I can feel my heart thudding in my chest, my hands are still shaking. It's…Buffy is…I should call Giles. He'll know what to do. Yeah, I'll get up right now, call Giles, fill him in on all the details and then…then we'll do…stuff…something. And Xander can come too! Even Anya, I'll take all the help I can get because we'll all be looking for Buffy because she needs us…but…
Buffy's…she's…she that…I need her. And…and she needs me.
My head turns almost against my will until I'm staring at the phone. It's sitting right there, on the corner of my desk. Some sunlight through the window makes the handle kinda shiny. I could call them…I really could.
We're a team! We're the Scoobies! We stick together and share but…I…
Buffy could be in trouble, no she is in trouble and I might not be strong enough to get her out. Okay…so….I'll call them. I'll call the rest of the gang and tell them what's going on. Then we'll get together, pool our resources, rescue Buffy and get coupons for happily ever afters good for a few days at least!
Right. Going to call Giles. Yup. Uh huh, going to do it.
After I cast the spell.
Well, that's decided.
I adjust my sitting slightly so I'm kneeling in the middle of the circle.
I cup my hands in front of me, the palms crossing over each other; I take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds then let it out, I take another, hold it again and release it. A third breath, deep, in through my nose, I hold it.
I can smell her. Buffy. Maybe just a memory, maybe because she's in the room, this is her room, our room. Me. Mine, ours, hers. Here, us. Together. She's all around. I can taste her in the air; feel her heat in the breath in my lungs, I exhale.
I close my eyes slowly, still kneeling, hands cupped.
"Please," I say aloud. They're listening, I know they are. "Please, take me, this tiny part of me, take it to her."
My hands grow slightly warm, I don't focus on it, I don't focus on anything, I just try and give, give of myself so it can be given to Buffy.
"It's right here," I say aloud. "Please just take it to her, it's not much because I'm still kind of new at this but, please, take it to her. Take it to Buffy."
A gentle breeze picks up, and the warmth in my hand vanishes.
I sit back on my feet and brush some of my hair out of my eyes. "Well now," I say that wasn't so haraAAAAHHH!!!"
My…hands! They're…they're burning! My feet, my hands…oh God oh God oh God oh God…so…aaaahhH! Make it stop, make it stop, please…Buffy…what? Too much, no don't pull at…stop! I…they're…they're hurting her…hurting us…can't…stop….screaming…everything's pain and bright…oh God…make it stop!
Pain, pain and fear and pain…can't breath…can't see…just white…white and that voice…
"Obey!" It commands.
"No!" I scream back.
"No!" I scream back, again the pain, the burning…I can…I can smell…burnt meat.
Oh God my hands!
No! Can't say it this time, blood in my mouth, cough it up, on the floor…it starts to boil.
Oh my head.
I roll over slowly and instantly regret it. Opening my eyes takes a while; the dim light coming through the windows goes right to the back of my skull.
"What…what happened?" I mumble to myself.
Oh yeah, now I remember.
"Buffy!" I shriek and jump to my feet or try to. Instead my head blows into a million pieces that scatter all over the floor; that's what it feels like at least. The impact of my knees on the floors is a pleasant distraction from the screaming in my head.
The screaming of pain and the screaming of Buffy.
I put my hands to my face and they come away wet, with tears. I'm not surprised.
"Buffy," I quietly sob. "Where are you?"
"I can tell you that." A voice says from behind me.
I turn around slowly, trying to think of some sort of…magic if it's needed. There's someone sitting on my bed so it's probably needed, needed very badly. Too bad I'm drawing a blank.
"Who are you?" I say, trying not to sound afraid. I'm probably not doing a great job of it.
The figure turns their face slightly so the dim light spills across their face. I see tough, tan, leathered skin; I see hard jaw lines and a few scars. I also see long, flowing black hair pulled back into a ponytail.
"I'm a Hunter," the woman replies.
END -Third Test
Disclaimer: All this belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. (Hard to believe, I know)
Drain Brameged Inc. Proudly Presents
A Mad-Hamlet Production
Dianna Wears Red
"You're a what?" The small redheaded girl asks me.
Her name is Willow Rosenberg. According to the Council's files she's a genius, bit socially awkward and stronger than she appears. If they knew what I knew they could add being an out and about lesbian and is currently in a relationship with The Council's little prize.
Only right now she's not looking all that strong.
She's sitting on the floor having pulled herself upright. I found her sleeping there when I entered the room. Now she's squinting at me with the heel of one hand pressed to her temple and the other hand held in front of her, trying to block the rays of the setting sun.
I lean forward slightly so my body cuts off the light coming in through the window. The girl sighs in relief and lets her outstretched hand fall. "I'm a Hunter," I repeat.
She squints at me trying to get a clear idea of what I look like but with the sun behind me that's probably pretty hard. "Let me make this a little easier," I say. I stand up, she flinches and shrinks back a bit at my sudden movement, and turning away from her I go over to the window and find the metal latch that holds the blinds up. With a flick of my fingertip the catch is removed and the blinds come rattling down, rather loudly. At the sound the redhead winces again and groans.
Turning around I sit back down on the bed, clasp my hands and stare down at the girl on the floor.
Blinking several times she opens her eyes and stares at me, "Who has Buffy?" she finally asks.
"The Council," I reply.
"Why?" She keeps her voice flat, even; she's keeping control. That or she's still a little woozy.
"They're scared," I say.
Her eyes flicker over to the window; she stares at it. Maybe looking for something outside; this is hard with the blinds down. After a few moments she nods slowly.
She's taking this all rather well. Complete stranger in her room, talking about her kidnapped friend.
"How did they catch her?"
"Me," I say. "I caught her for them."
That gets her attention, her head swivels and she's staring directly at me. I find myself pinned beneath two green eyes. I meet her stare without flinching, I've been hunting longer than she's drawn breath and I know the rules. I won't back down from her challenge. Besides what could she really do to me? I could snap…her…over….uh oh.
She stands up slowly, drawing herself to her full height without taking her eyes off of me. This in itself is not that impressive, with her standing up and me sitting down we're still pretty much the same height but….
The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and, without my say so, the muscles in my chest tighten slightly.
"You?" she says quietly. "You took Buffy away from me?"
I'm seized by an impulse to look away, to surrender to her. I won't naturally. I never have and I never will. Now the muscles in my arms and leg begin to tense, all without my say so. I can hear my breath whistling in and out of my nose.
This is crazy. She can't weigh half of what I do, I've got more ways to kill her than I can recall and she's just staring at me. So why am I feeling more unnerved by that look of hers than the last time I had to face down a cranky grizzly?
"Yes," I say. My voice sounds calm and clear which is good. I mustn't let her know how her stare is affecting me.
"And you gave her to them," She replies. "Now they're hurting her, probably thinking they're doing her a favor."
"Yes," I say with a slight nod, the movement takes effort on my part. "I captured The Slayer for them, they told me to so I did."
The weight of her stare is palatable. As the sun continues to set and the light in the room fades the green of her eyes begins to wane. Her eyes…almost look like they're filling with black. She doesn't have power this little girl. Not yet, she will though; its sleeping now and I think I might have just gotten it, and her, attention.
That may have been a mistake.
Then she blinks, a few times. Then a few more times and continues to blink. "I hate staring," she grumbles rubbing her eyes. "Gets my eyeballs all Sahara-like."
This sudden jump from Very Dangerous to Somewhat Cranky in her behavior catches me totally flatfooted, my muscles relax instantly and I practically slump in relief.
"I have to call Giles," The girl says reaching for the phone. Her fingers curl around it but before she can dial I grab her hand in my own.
"Willow-" I begin.
She spins and her eyes are blazing. "Don't touch me," she says coldly.
I ignore her, "Listen we-"
She interrupts me again, "They're torturing her. Right now they're torturing her, burning her, screaming at her. She can't walk, or rest or run. She loves to run," she places free hand, such a tiny pale limb, on my chest.
"She loves to run and now they're burning her feet. They're burning her feet, her hands, her skin and making her bleed; all because of you. Because you gave her to them."
The redhead pauses, looking thoughtful. She glances at my hand, my hand that's still resting atop of hers which is holding the phone. "And I told you not to touch me," she pushes me with her other hand.
Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.
I smell ozone.
I'm not sure how but I appear to be against the far wall. The remains of a wooden cabinet scattered around me. She gave me a simple push, there was a loud bang and now I'm lying in the remains of furniture; it appears I was wrong.
I glance up at Willow. She's staring at her hand, the one that pushed me, in…well it looks like, I sniff, certainly smells like fear.
She looks at me, then back at her hand, then back at me. "I'm," she pauses for a second and I see her throat swallow. "I'm sorry," she says quietly. "I guess…uh…I guess."
I stand up slowly, ignoring the protests of various bruised muscles. "I deserved it," I say.
The young girl opens and closes her hand a few times, "It looks like my hand," she's talking to herself. "It looks like my hand and feels like my hand. It opens and closes like my hand, see?" she demonstrates by making a fist two times. "But it just did the 'Knock Big Lady Across Room' thing and that is decidedly not Willow-hand like behavior."
"I'm not big," I say stiffly, the words slipping out before I can help myself. "I'm muscular."
She stares at me at first, and then cracks a smile, the smile becomes a giggle, the giggle becomes a laugh. She clutches at her stomach and continues to laugh. I can feel my own lips tugging upward but I don't let them. This evening has been full of loss-of-control.
The redhead continues to laugh; she falls to her knees laughing, still laughing. She falls over on her side, curled up in a fetal ball; eventually the laughter starts fading.
Predictable. She's crying.
I roll my eyes and stare at the ceiling, 'Why me?' I mentally ask no one in particular.
"In love with a girl," she moans. "Then she starts turning into…." she's cut off by fresh sobs. This goes on for a bit and the next thing I can make out is, "Waste all my shampoo, use lipstick on the rug," more crying. She flops over onto her back and stares at the ceiling; is she even aware I'm in the room anymore?
"Torture, and strange woman showing up in our room. 'I'm a Hunter'," she says in a poor copy of my voice. I'm getting sick of this. Self pity only did one thing as far as I'm concerned: Get people dead.
"Beware the dark side," the redhead giggles. "For once you go down that path forever shall it dominate your destiny!" What the hell is she talking about?
I straddle her, bend down, grab her by the shoulders and haul her to her feet. Her head lolls and her eyes aren't focusing; I slam her again a wall. "Shut up" I snarl in her face, our noses scant centimeters from each other. "Right now the woman you love is being tortured as you yourself pointed out!" Her head rolls the other way, she sniffs noisily. I pin her against the wall with one hand on her chest, with the other I cup her chin and hold her head still.
"Now yes, I captured her. I tracked her down like a beast of prey and netted her pretty as you please." She blinks.
"Then, I bagged her, gagged her and delivered her like a package because that was my job. That's what I had to do."
She licks her lips, and she stares at my mouth, she's started coming back from wherever she ran to.
"So I caught her and gave her away," I say clearly, coldly without expression or tone. "That…may have been a mistake." She's looking at me again.
"One I'm going to fix," I pull my face away from hers. I'm no longer in her personal space but I'm still holding her against the wall. "But we can only fix it if we go now, I have no idea how long your girlfriend can last against Fat Man, he's a monster but he knows what he's doing." I begin to relax, easing off still holding her against the wall but I let go of her face. "So we don't have time to call your friend and have him sit around, examining books or making plans."
She blinks slowly, "You know Giles huh?"
I almost grin, "I know the British."
"You're touching me," she says it in a quiet whisper, I almost miss it. I let go of her and take two large steps back.
"Are we going to go?" I ask her.
She goes to the closet without a word. Reaching inside she grabs a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and a light jacket. She slides into the jeans, pulls the shit over her head. Without waiting to put on socks she steps into her sneakers. Throwing the jacket over her shoulder she turns to me.
"We go," the Witch says.
It takes us half an hour to reach wherever it is this hunter lady wants to go. Of course I know where it is and if she'd told me I could have gotten there faster. Like, taking a bus maybe or walking there in a straight line rather than going around, through lots of trees, behind peoples houses and all that other stuff.
She's probably say she was being stealthy and she might be right but I don't have time for this, Buffy is….
Can't stop thinking about it, what I saw, what I heard…what I felt. It wasn't just the pain or the noise, she was trapped. Trapped in a big box and there was nowhere for her to go. That's what was hurting her the most, she couldn't go, she was just stuck there and that's what was…she's breaking. I know it, something inside, something deep inside her was breaking apart, fragmenting and if she does break…
My fingers are tingling.
The Hunter grabs me and pulls me into the shadows, "We're here," she whispers.
Oh. The Docks.
"Whe-" I start to say.
"Be quiet!" she hisses in my ear.
I nod and quietly whisper, "Where's Buffy?"
The Hunter, her back against the wall of a warehouse nods in the direction of another warehouse. It's across from us, directly, and surrounded by dirty yellow light thanks to a series of spotlights mounted on each of its corners.
"What are we waiting for?" I hiss and take a step.
The Hunter grabs me by my shirt collar and yanks be back against the wall. "Are you crazy?" she whispers angrily.
She looks up, "On the roof of this very building are at least three sharpshooters with long range rifles and laser sites. They'd take you out before you made it three steps."
She glances around, I see it at the same time she does. A ladder built into the side of warehouse; its end is hanging at least ten feet off the ground. "Wait here," she commands.
Walking underneath the ladder she bends slightly and jumps up easily catching the bottom rung. She easily pulls herself up, hand over hand, the rungs until her feet catch the bottom one. Without a sound she climbs the rest of the way and disappears over the edge of the roof.
"Hmph," I mumble, crossing my arms. "Buffy would have done it better." I pause. "Faster too."
From the roof I can hear voices. Can't make them out really, sounds like…someone is greeting…there's The Hunter's voice and…that's odd. Now it's quiet.
Hmmm…should I? I mean…I'm not…exactly stealthy but…it's gotten awful quiet up there and….oh heck with it.
I glance around and tip toe across the shadows until I'm standing under the ladder. It looks…higher than I thought. Well, if she can do it I can-
I bend my knees till I'm almost squatting, okay, here we go Rosenberg, ready…on three…one…two….three!
Not even close.
Okay again, here we go and…Jump!
My finger tips don't even touch the bottom of the ladder.
A hand slides across my mouth, I scream into it but the sound is muffled. I kick behind me but my attacker doesn't budge. I dig my nails into the forearm that's snaking across my throat but that doesn't do any good and…and…
Oh God…oh God….Oh God…..
"What are you doing?" The Hunter whispers into my ear. Oh it's her.
She slowly removes her hand from my mouth, and lets me go. I almost shout, I take the breath to shout but The Hunter glares at me. I exhale. "What did you do that for?" I say as fiercely as I can, and still whisper.
"You don't need to whisper anymore, but speak quietly," she brushes her hands off. "In answer to your question if I'd tapped you on the shoulder, you'd have screamed your head off."
I don't want to admit it but she's right, "So…uh what happened to the…y'know…quys with overly capable phallic symbols?"
She blinks once or twice, "Uh…if you mean the snipers on the roof they're taken care of." She peers around the corner looking at a third warehouse to our left, I hear her mutter, "Phallic symbols?"
I take a few steps closer to The Hunter; she's eyeing the roof of the third warehouse and whispering to herself, can't make it out now what she's saying. "Now what?" I whisper.
Without taking her eyes off the warehouse she replies, "Now you wait here, there are more guards on the roof over there and the warehouse to our right. I've got to sneak over there and take out a combined total of six heavily armed guards."
"So what should I do?" I reply.
The Hunter glances at me over her shoulder, "What part of 'wait here' slipped by you? This will require patience, stealth and really nice left hook. I can't have someone who is like a Moose in a China shop dogging my every step."
"A bull," I say automatically. "The correct colloquialism is a bull in a-Hey!"
The Hunter shrugs her shoulders, "Same difference," she mutters.
"I am not a bull," Pause. "Or a moose and there isn't a china shop anywhere nearby! This is my girlfriend in there so-"
"So nothing," The Hunter cuts me off. "If you want to try and be helpful sit tight and be quiet."
"Now wait just a cotton pickin' minute here," I say wagging my finger in her face. "Why the heck did you bring me along then? I mean if you're going to go off and do everything then what is my purpose here? I'd like to this I have something of value to contribute!"
The Hunter is quiet for a moment then she finally asks, "Did you just say 'Cotton pickin' minute?'"
I uh…"Yeah….," I mumble, suddenly embarrassed. "I guess I did."
"Jesus," she rolls her eyes.
"Didn't say that," I shake my head.
"No, I said it," The Hunter snaps. "Look, you want to know? Fine, you're here not to get killed and, more to the point, not get me killed."
"That's not informative," I grumble. I glance down at my toes then back at The Hunter.
The Hunter sighs and throws up her hands, "I'm pretty sure I could get her out without your help, but I'm not sure how controllable The Slayer would be. You know, having been tortured for all this time." The Hunter pauses for a minute, "So I'm thinking that she'll be grateful see a familiar face. Also it's a gesture of respect to her; I respect the Slayer and want to 'be courteous' one hunter to another. Course I have to get you to her in one piece."
I stare at her without saying anything, willing her to read my mind.
"Not buying it are you?" she asks after a few moments.
I shake my head.
"Okay," The Hunter sighs and rubs her nose with her fingers. "Okay, fine, the truth of the matter is that I'm scared to death what The Slayer will be like when she comes out that box and I want you to be there to make sure that I am not noticed or as little noticed as possible. Better?"
"Yep," I say. "That wasn't so hard now was it? So what can I do to help?"
"Think of a way to take out those lights around the main warehouse or something." She says pointing at the warehouse where Buffy supposedly is then adds. "If you do decide to do anything wait at least ten minutes, I should have the situation in hand by then."
Before I can reply to that she's stepped around the corner and is gone; I move as un-mooselike as possible and peer around the corner myself but I don't see her anywhere.
"Buffy could do that better too," I mutter. Biased very much, thanks.
Fine, you go that way Ms 'I'm a Hunter' and go do your hunting thing, I'll take care of the lights. Bet your furry behind I'll take care of the lights.
I sit down, cross my legs and take a few breaths. I'm deep in the shadows, I can't be seen but I'm hoping that no vamps come along.
Closing my eyes I let my breathing deepen, I relax as best I can
Center….center….no…no…don't, don't remember Buffy's pain, it's distraction…we have to get to the center, it's calm in the center we can…we can work and…help in the center…no…God no….
Bright, and pain and noise and noise and pain and burningnoise and painburning brightnoiseburn burnnoisebright
Hurting, hurting, hurting…shhh…so bright…shhhh…hurts…shhh….
Buffy's smiling at me, she's lying beside me in our beds moved together and I wake up to her smiling. First thing I see in the morning is her warm smile. Better than any other way to wake up….
….Buffy's just come home, she's so tired from her classes; her shoulders slumped she lets her backpack drop to the floor. The thump of so many books makes the floor shake. I show her I bought mochas and her smile lights up the room. Suddenly energized she jumps across the room and gives me a big hug….
"Willow?" I hear The Hunter's voice. I know she's there, I knew she was coming. Ten minutes already? My, she's efficient. That's probably how she caught Buffy the first time; being so very efficient. We should probably have a talk, The Hunter and I, about her efficiency. I ignore her.
Have to get to the center, my center, push through the storms and fury and power and get to the center, I know the center is calm and peaceful. Where I can find what I need and do what I have to do.
I know them.
I know who they are, I know what they are, I know where they are and I know what they want.
They are monsters, they are on the other side of those lights, those walls, those doors and they want to take Buffy away from me. They want to take away her smiles, her hugs, her bad days and her good days. Her laughter, her tears her desires and her fears.
They want them all, they're worse than any vampire because they don't want to kill her, they want to own her.
They want to take her from me.
There…there I'm in my center.
And there are storms here too.
They want to take her from me.
I won't let them.
I open my eyes; I see the lights surrounding the warehouse.
I open my lips and breathe, "Break".
Whatever the Council is paying these guys is too much. That was way, way too easy to do. Three warehouses, three roofs, three times the same question, 'How was the hunting?' Three scuffles later and nine men down.
I'd honestly like to think I'm that good but I think it was more along the lines of these 'assassins' being that stupid. Better go get the redhead, she's probably hyperventilating.
What's she doing?
Okay, let's evaluate the situation. I have just risked life and limb to help someone free someone else who I myself captured, at great personal risk, and now the first someone, namely a redheaded girl named Willow, is sitting cross-legged in the dark.
And occasionally whimpering.
"Willow?" I ask.
For a split second I think she's registered that I'm there then her focus…turns away I guess.
I step closer to her, intent on grabbing her shoulder…and I stop.
The hairs on my arm are standing up, hell even the hairs on my pelts are standing up. She opens her eyes and doesn't see me, she's staring only at the warehouse where her lover is being held.
The air gets heavy and thick, it's an effort to breath…oh shit.
"Break," she says.
I hit the deck.
The entire front of the warehouse ripples, like hot pavement on the horizon, a slight shimmer, an illusion that makes you want to blink or rub your eyes. The front of the warehouse does something like that. Only it's not an illusion when the entire front of it gets blown in and all the spot lights running around it explode in miniature fireballs. The heavy steel door rattles in its slot then…slowly…with almost a sense of dignity…falls forward to slam into the ground.
"So much for stealth," I mutter to myself pulling my feet under me. I glance over my shoulder at Willow; she's collapsed, chest heaving eyes glazed. I kneel by her side and feel her face; it's cold, clammy and covered with sweat. Her eyes come into focus and she looks at me, "Sorry, sorry. Just the lights," she gasps, "I…hah hah…only wanted…hah…to break the lights!"
"I believe you," I whisper to her. "Stay here, I'll cover."
"N-no," she stammers. She shrugs my hands off and rolls over, getting her hands under her she tries to push of the ground. "Sh-she needs me," Willow grunts.
Fine, she can play catch up. I dash toward the now wrecked warehouse, from the smoke I see a figure emerge. Fatman? No, just one of his men.
He sees me, "Where the bloody blue blazes have you been?" he hollers at me as I run up to him.
"Hunting," I say. "What's all this?"
He shakes his head, "No idea, an attack of some sort. I can't get in touch with any of the guys on the patrol. I'm about to check."
"Right," I say nodding. "You check the guys on the south building, I'll take north."
"Stay in radio contact at all times," He says holding up his walkie talkie.
I smile and pat one of my belt pouches that doesn't have a radio in it but what he doesn't know…is probably going to hurt him a lot.
He turns away and I hit him. A very nice rabbit punch right where the skull meets the neck; without a sound he crumples onto the pavement. If I'm to rescue The Slayer I've got to get to her before Fatman does something stupid, like kill her.
I turn back to the redhead, she's on her feet and staggering toward me; well…if anyone wants to get to her they'll probably have to get past me first. There's nobody else out here, any other guards are inside what's left of the warehouse.
I duck through the dark opening where the door used to stand and make my way across the room. I'm trying to stick to the shadows but that's a lot harder than it should be. The redhead's magic whatever shook the whole building and all the lights that she didn't blow out inside here are swinging back and forth.
Reaching a corner where no light can reach I stop and listen.
The generators which were powering Fatman's fun room are dead, probably fried by Willow's magic blast. There's no sound of any movement either. At the far end of the room, one moment lit from above, the next darkened than lit again, is the tiny steel cell that holds The Slayer.
There's nothing moving anywhere.
I wait for a minute, the oscillations of the lights above lessen and soon only the center of the room is lit. I take a deep breath and hold it, tasting the various scents filling the room.
Tears spring to my eyes and my stomach churns as the odor of burnt flesh and hair assault me. Sweat, dirt and a lot of cigarette smoke are also in the mix but there's no smell of gunpowder, or blood, or pasta.
Damnit, I was right. She's a moose!
The redhead is standing by the far side of the opening where the door was; with one hand she's supporting herself. She's half bent over and she's still breathing heavily.
"Buffy where are you!" she screams into the warehouse.
"Willow, shut-" I start to shout.
No, he was outside!
Fatman steps directly behind the redhead and wraps a forearm around her throat and pulls her against his bulk. With his other hand he presses a small ugly pistol to her temple.
I'm such an idiot; he must have gone out a side door when Willow…blew everything up. Must have stayed on the far side of the warehouse, out of sight. I was so intent on getting inside I forgot about the possibility of him circling around. Stupid, bungling, arrogant amateur.
"Ah, my dear Hunter," he rasps. "I freely admit that I am no match for you in combat but with this lovely little thing between us it balances accounts nicely," he pushes the pistol harder, Willow squeezes her eyes shut and whimpers. "Yes, it does even things out rather well," Fatman purrs.
"I know you duckling," he croons to Willow. "You're Willow Rosenberg, one of The Slayer's little friends. Oh we do have detailed file about you, yes we do." He squeezes the girl slightly. "The Council doesn't like you; you helped The Slayer become independent, you pulled her away from us," With the arm he has around her throat he caresses her face with his fingertips and Willow gives a little hiccup. "No," he murmurs. "We don't like you at all."
Now, while he's distracted, I'll try and move just a little bit closer, he's only ten feet away, twelve tops all I need is a few steps.
The second I lift my foot his attention shifts to me rattlesnake quick, "Ah, ah, ah Hunter," he shakes his head and makes a tsk tks tks sound. "No movements from you."
"So sad," he says solemnly. "You betraying us, now The Council will have to seek compensation. You know how it goes, follow in the shoes of Shylock and retrieve our pound of flesh." He finishes with a soft smile, like the idea pleases him, probably does the tubby freak.
"I didn't betray you," I smile back, playing the game. "I did exactly what I was instructed."
"How droll," Fatman murmurs. "I suppose this is the trite, 'no one told me not to get the Slayer's friends and attempt to free her' argument?" He fakes a yawn but even though it looks like he closes his eyes I can see them, little piggy eyes, glinting in the dim light. "Sorry darling, not interested. Neither will The Council be."
"I won't let you hurt her," I say, changing the subject.
Fatman smile again, a beatific smile, his mother probably loved it. I hate it; fate permitting I'll feed it to him.
"Wouldn't think of it," he says. "Now this is how it shall be. I am going to walk toward the cage," he says 'cage' with extra force trying to use my dislike of that name against me. Won't work FatMan. "And for every step forward you will take a step back, you will remain the exact same distance from me at all times." He hasn't taken the gun away from Willow's head for an instant. "Failure to comply at any time will result in this little one's death." He grinds the barrel against her temple, smiling like a cherub.
"You kill her, I kill you," I say, one foot still poised.
"True," he replies with a nod. "But she'll be dead won't she?"
"You love yourself too much to risk yourself like that," I say.
His smile widens, "Maybe," he shrugs. "Then again maybe not."
He grabs Willow's hand with his, "Let me see your hand Duckling," he whispers not taking his eyes off me. "Let Papa see your hand." He holds Willow's hand to his face and inhales deeply.
"Exquisite," he breathes exhaling. "I simply must have a taste!" and he slips Willow's pinky between his puckered lips and suckles loudly. When he releases Willow's hand she pulls away and her pinky comes out with a loud pop.
"Mmmmm," FatMan breathes. "Duckling you taste enchanting. Pity we do not have more time."
He grins at me.
He's not afraid, I can tell so either he's telling the truth or he's too stupid to realize what's going on. He's sick, twisted, fat, ugly, obscene and a monstrous example of humanity but I've not seen or heard anything that tells me he's stupid.
Holding Willow against him, barrel of the gun to her head he takes a single step forward. I clench my fists and with everything screaming inside me I step back, I back down. I give way to him; the fat bastard.
"Excellent," he says. "See we can all cooperate very well, conditions permitting."
He takes another step, and another, and another. I keep pace with him never waving, never hesitating. With every move I make the protests from my mind…from my heart from that deep angry place inside get louder and louder.
When I reach the cell I cannot back up any farther and he's still ten feet away. Willow has not moved, or uttered a sound the entire time. She hasn't even wiped her hand, I can see the sheen of his saliva under the lights.
"Now," he says. "As your way is blocked by the cage you will step to your right toward the nearest wall for every step of my own."
He steps and I comply, my instincts and desires howling.
He reaches the door of the cell, a heavy layered steel door which, thought pitted and rusty, is probably rock solid. "Don't move duckling," he murmurs in Willow's ear. "Do not even breathe; Papa needs his keys but he cannot reach them as all his hands are full so I need you to get them for me."
He winks at me and bends his head forward so he's nuzzling the back of her head, "Will you do Papa that favor Duckling? Will you get Papa his keys?"
Willow nods dumbly her eyes open and unseeing.
"Reach back, Duckling," he instructs her. "Use your left hand only; reach into Papa's pocket and take out the big key on the key ring. Try not to let your hand wander."
Slowly Willow reaches back and slips her hand into Fatman's pocket, a moment later she pulls out a large key ring with an equally large steel key attached to it. She holds it up in front of her and stares at it with a puzzled expression.
"What are you going to do?" I ask.
"I?" Fatman replies blinking innocently. "Nothing. But she will unlock the door for me and then…well we'll see what we see."
"You're…you're going to kill her," The voice is weak, tired, distant but still clearly audible. "You're going to kill Buffy aren't you?" Willow repeats.
Fatman clucks sympathetically. "I'm afraid so Duckling, I'm afraid so. She's broken, irredeemable. We tried our best to help her of course. We tried our very, very best but it was too little too late."
He sighs, "At this point I consider it a mercy actually."
"But, but you were torturing her," Willow protests, I remain quiet, a hole in the shadows but Fatman's eyes never leave me. "You were hurting her, how is that helping?"
"Duckling, Duckling, Duckling," Fatman says patronizingly. "I cannot expect a child like you to understand. Put simply sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind; she was misbalanced, dysfunctional. We were merely trying to establish order once again, balance, unity."
He's silent for a moment, looking introspective. He's just acting, the fat fuck is just acting, playing a role in a game for his own amusement.
"We failed," he continues. "To our eternal shame we, The Council, has failed. So we must cut our losses and move on. It's all for the best, do you understand Duckling? Do you understand what Papa is saying?"
Willow doesn't say anything; the air is still as we three stand silent, waiting. Then, after a time, slowly Willow nods. "Yes," she whispers. "I-"
Then with a sudden intake of breath Willow shrieks, "Buffy! I'm here! Buffy I'm right here! We're here Buffy!"
It's loud, sudden and totally unexpected. For a second I'm sure that Willow has just killed herself and FatMan will blow her head off.
Instead he only chuckles.
"A good effort Duckling," he says. And then, then he makes a mistake, he takes the gun away from her temple, with the end of the pistol he taps at the steel door. "This is at least two inches thick plated steel and it is also completely sound proof and air tight. I assure you your 'Buffy' is quite unaware of us."
"Besides," And his smile, so angelic for this entire time shifts and twists into a grotesque grin. "Before you got here I had already broken her. She was lying on the floor covered with burns quite unconscious." An ugly, light skitters across the back of his eyes as he stares at me.
With a loud crang sound the steel door tents outward. Right from where he tapped the door with his pistol. He backs away quickly squeezing Willow against him, again with the pistol pressed to her head.
There are two more sounds of impact at two huge dents are knocked in the door. The steel moorings, holding the door begin to groan. "Jee," I say staring at The Council Member. "Looks like you woke her up Fatman." I use the name I gave him with relish. His glance flickers from the door, to me and back to the door.
"I'm not fat," he says automatically. "I'm big boned."
Two more loud blows ring throughout the warehouse and two more divots tent outward from the steel door; which is looking less and less like a door every second.
"Im- Impossible," Fatman declares. "That door is two inches thick! The strength of The Slayer is well documented, we know exactly what The Slayer is and is not capable of; she cannot do this!"
"Mm," I grunt, nodding. "You sure she got the memo?"
With a final blow the door is torn off its hinges; it soars across the room barely missing Fatman before it slams into the dirt….fifteen or so feet from the steel box it was just attached to. Standing in the doorway is The Slayer; her hair is mussed, dirty and matted; there are burns all over her body. The skin of her hands and feet are cracked and bloody. Even as she stands there a small pool of blood grows around her feet.
"Buffy," Willow breathes. Her eyes come alive, she's flush with confidence and seems to glow from inside. "Boy," she crows, twisting her head around to stare at Fatman out of the corner of her eye. "You are really fucked now!"
"Boy," I scream exultingly, "You are really fucked now!"
My Buffy's here, everything is going to be alright.
We got here in time, Buffy's here, Buffy's here!
Buffy, Buffy, Buffy, Buffy, Buff-
"Shut up," The Council Man rasps in my ear. "All of you shut up!"
Then I get a good look at her.
Buffy…my poor Buffy…burns all over her, blistered, cracked, bleeding. Blood is trickling from her mouth, her nose, even from her ears. Her hands drip blood on the floor, from where she stands blood is pooling on the ground….
"Buffy," I whimper, I can't help it. "I'm so sorry!"
She ignores me; she's staring at The Hunter who returns the stare, for a moment, and then The Hunter looks away, down to the ground for a split second. She recovers quickly, starts giving her glare to The Councilman.
Behind me I hear The Councilman clear his throat a few times. "Slayer," he says quite clearly. "You will return to your cage now Slayer."
She ignores him too.
"Slayer!" he says with more force. "You will obey me; you will return to your cage and wait there until called for. You will do as you are told and you will do so now."
Buffy keeps on ignoring him, "Slayer," he's almost shouting now, I think he's starting to panic. "I have your friend here and if you do not do as I say I will kill her," he pushes at my temple with the gun, again…it really hurts. "Do you understand me? I will kill her! I will take this gun and put a bullet into her little red-haired head and it will be your fault!"
That gets her attention; slowly she turns to look at The Councilman and at me. I can't help the gasp, her eyes! Those are not Buffy's eyes! Buffy has grey blushish eyes, like a stormy sky not these, not these eyes. These are the eyes of something…
Oh my God.
Those eyes are ancient.
Buffy stares at us, or whatever is behind those eyes stares at us, she looks right at me without a flicker of recognition. Buffy, it's me, it's Willow, don't you remember me?
Then she looks back at The Hunter, "We," she gurgles. Her voice is raspy, hoarse, like sandpaper across a chalkboard. "We not know you," and she points at The Hunter with one bloody hand.
Then she looks back at us, at the Councilman her hand swings slowly until she's pointing at him. A drop of blood rolls over the tip of her finger and drops to the floor, the sound is deafening.
"We know you," she grunts. "You hurt us," then her gaze flickers to me and she sees me, for just an instant that bright, terrible old blue dims and she sees me. "You are touching," she growls. "You touching our mate!"
The Councilman gives a jerk, "Your what?" he gasps. "Mate? What, you and this girl? Mates?"
He begins to tremble and the muscles in his arm tense, he's shaking me he's so angry. "You are engaged in a relationship with this girl?" He thunders. "You grotesque, malformed, sinful whore!" he screams, his voice climbing higher and higher. "You abomination, you have sullied your line-"
Buffy ignores his ranting and continues speaking, "Threatened our mate."
"-and your calling." The Councilman continues to scream, his voice warbling.
They're both talking, well he's screaming, at the same time!
"And for that," Buffy snarls. Her lips pull away from bloody teeth and the her fingers curl into claws.
"You will be consumed in the bowels of Hell, twisting in the burning for all eternity, the both of you! First the Witch then-"
"You die!" Buffy shrieks.
"You die!" The Councilman shouts.
He's going to do it, he's going to shoot, the barrel of the gun trembles against my skin, the muscles in his hand creak and his forearm across my throat is like a steel bar.
Buffy, I look at her for the last time, Buffy I love you!
Then she flickers, like one minute she's there the next she's not.
Then The Councilman's roar is cut off and something hot and wet splashes into my hair, across my face and into my mouth. His arm falls away from around my throat, and the pressure of the pistol vanishes at the same time. There's this long, rattling groan and a solid thud an instant later followed by a more meaty thud…or was it two more thuds one on the end of the other?
I spin around look behind me, to see where Buffy might have gone, can't see a damn thing though. There's this stuff in my eyes; I paw at my face, scraping away something sticky and…kinda chunky. Like meaty spaghetti sauce, still can't see anything. I try opening my eyes but everything is red and blurry; just gotta get this crud off and now I can see-
"Willow," The Hunter calls me.
"Hm?" I'm distracted, getting this stuff off, looking for Buffy. No time to talk; busy, busy, busy.
"Willow, look at me," The Hunter says.
I get the last of the stuff off my face, as best I can, I turn to The Hunter, "What do you want, I'm looking for Buffy. Where's Buffy? Anyhow?" I ask her. "She was right here, then she just sorta jumped or something and then…poof!" I spread my hands. "She's gone."
"Buffy's behind you, Willow," The Hunter says slowly she holds out her hand to me.
"Oh okay," I start to turn. "No!" The Hunter shouts.
"What?" I ask, hands on my hips I'm beginning to get impatient.
"Buffy's fine, she's behind you and you'll see her in just a second," The Hunter looks over my shoulder and visibly pales. "Just…just don't turn around."
I'm about to protest, I'm about to do turn around anyway and do whatever it is The Hunter is worried about me doing then I see Buffy. She's ambles into my field of vision. "Buffy," I whisper but she must not have heard me. She's staring at her hands, her bloody hands, like she did that night after the beer. She's studying closely some…it looks like tissue hanging from her nails.
"I'll leave you two alone," The Hunter mumbles uselessly. "Cover up the mess or something."
"Yeah," I reply not even looking at The Hunter. "You do that."
I reach out to Buffy, I want to pull her into a hug and I try but she steps away. She looks at me, studies would be a better word for it. "We…we know you," she says haltingly, as if she's a little unsure. "She knows you, she loves you…she says…she says we…tell you things, a thing."
"What?" I ask Buffy; behind me The Hunter grunts slightly as she drags something away.
"She…she is not here," Buffy says. My stomach begins to clench.
"What do you mean 'she'," I say back. "Who's she…where is she?"
"You know…apologies…we speak use her memories to know, still, " Buffy shrugs apologetically. "Not…good with this tongue."
Buffy puts a hand to her head and seems to think. "Your love is…asleep. Inside." She says finally. "We…we are The Slayer."
"No," I whisper. "You're…you're just confused Buffy, you're just confused and tired and….and you have to be there…we…we need you Buffy, I need you!" I grab Buffy by the shoulders and she visibly twitches.
Slowly, very slowly as if she's afraid I'll shatter Buffy caresses my face with her bloody fingers, "Loves you much," she murmurs, still in a throaty growl. "Too much hurt; too much pressure. Man tried to put us back. Cage us, bind us…we must be free."
She blinks and when she looks at me again the bright blue is darker, it's getting darker and darker very quickly. "We cannot stay, and…your mate must rest. All that will be left is…Wild."
"Wild?" My stomach is a churning, spitting, ball of ice. I can't feel my legs.
"What she…your mate…" As her eyes darken her speech gets slower and more labored. "Was…become stopped, hurt…must heal. Your mate…will…return…."
Buffy's head droops and she collapses. Her knees buckle, I try to catch her but her weight drags us both down. Cradling her head on my shoulder I stroke her face, she has to wake up. I have to get her to wake up.
"Buffy?" I say patting her cheek gently. "C'mon baby, don't do this to me…you have to stay with me honey. I love you so much."
Her eyes flicker open; they're almost a flat, deep blue except for a tiny spark in the center. "Mate…return……she…must…be…." Buffy's eyes flutter shut
The last word is whispered so quietly, so softly that I'm not sure I heart it. And even with what I know I'm not sure…I'm not sure of what she means.
"Is she unconscious?" The Hunter asks stepping out of the dark.
I stare at this woman, this Hunter that I could blame, that I should blame for all this. I think I might hate her; I'll have to think about it.
"Yes," I say biting the word.
"What did she say?" She asks, stepping a bit closer.
I wrap my arms around Buffy and being to rock her back and forth slowly, slowly. "Shhhh," I whisper to Buffy. "Shhh, everything's fine now. Everything's fine."
The Hunter kneels down beside us, "Willow," she says again gently. "What did she say? What did Buffy say?"
I look at The Hunter, I stare her right in the eyes…at least I think those are her eyes. It's so dark…and…my eyes see things a little blurry again, like just a few minutes ago except now everything's not red stuff blurry just blurry, blurry.
"She said she has to be free," I say.
END- Fourth Test.
Disclaimer: All this belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. (Not that he's doing anything productive with them anymore.)
Drain Brameged Inc. Proudly Presents
A Mad-Hamlet Production
Dianna Wear Red- Secundus
We run along side the road, from one streetlights glow to the next, for a moment I was worried that passing cars would notice us; silly wiccan, this is Sunnydale.
I can barely breath, yellow and green dots are flickering in and out in my vision. I hear this rasping deep in my chest every time I exhale. My feet are leaden and it takes conscious effort to hold my head up and not just watch the ground pass by.
The Hunter, who is still cradling Buffy to her chest, hasn't even broken a sweat.
"We're almost," Inhale, ow, exhale, ow, inhale, ow, exhale, ow. "There." I gasp. "Just," Ow. "Another block."
"We should rest," The Hunter says calmly; God I hate her. "You can stop, I'll go on ahead."
"No," I shake my head and nearly fall over from the effort. My feet fall heavily; a few steps more progress. "I," Inhale. "Stay with Buffy. '"Sides, you'd have to deal," Thud, thud, thud, yay three more steps; I want to die. "With Joyce."
"Joyce?" The Hunter inquires, taking long even strides with long strong legs that I will, in no shape or form, be jealous of. I normally would be, but I'm focusing on breathing.
"Buffy's," Whee, pretty lights. "Mother."
"Mother," The Hunter repeats. Hey, either I'm suffering for auditory hallucinations or did The Hunter sound nervous just then? "Is she protective?"
"Let," Gasp. "Me put it this way," I focus on my shoes, ignore the fireball where my lungs should be, look at my pretty shoes and keep moving! "Mama bear."
"Mama Bear," The Hunter repeats, without slowing down. "Shit."
"Uh-huh," I nod, grinning; at least I think I'm grinning. I'm so tired, facial muscles might be all loose and zombiesh.
We run for a bit in silence. Okay, honestly I stagger about while The Hunter moves at a brisk walk. "Here," I point to Buffy's house. I pull myself up the steps and lean on the doorbell for probably too long. "Wait just a second." I gasp.
Far too quickly the door opens, Joyce says from the doorway. "Oh hello Willow," she says, smiling in that 'mom' way. At least I think it's a 'mom' way, my mom never smiled like that; maybe once or twice when I was a baby. "This is a nice surprise; is Buffy with-" her eyes flicker downward.
It's dark, the lighting is poor and what's left of the Council Member all over my outfit probably blends in with the shadows well.
Personal query: I am currently wearing the remains of another person, why am I not flipping out?
"Oh my God," Joyce almost screams. "Willow are you alright? Get inside we have to-"
"Fine, I'm fine," I move towards her. "It's not mine, not even a good persons; it's-" Joyce cuts me off; she just put it together…if I'm here and I'm all yucky then the most important question would be-
"Where's Buffy?" She blurts, cutting me off..
Where's Buffy. Exactly.
She stops staring at my shirt, glances over my shoulder behind me.
I turn around and see what Joyce sees.
The Hunter, cradling Buffy like a baby, is standing below on the steps. The yellow light from the streetlamps crawls over Buffy staining her flesh the color of puss. Her burned limbs are lost in the shadows, the cracks in soles of her feet and palms stand out in bright red relief.
"Buffy," Joyce whispers and barrels right past me. "Oh my poor baby," she says tearfully. She brushes Buffy's face with her fingers; the next second she's all fire and anger. "Did you do this to her?" Joyce screams in The Hunter's face. "Did you?"
The Hunter flinches back, trying to get a word in, "Uh-"
"Give her to me," Joyce interrupts.
"I've got her, ma'am," The Hunter tries to protest.
"I said," Joyce hisses leaning forward. "Give me my daughter!"
Without another word The Hunter complies and Joyce effortlessly cradles Buffy to her chest. Joyce shouldn't be able to do that, Buffy is nearly a hundred pounds of dea-…of sleepy weight. Ninety-five pounds I mean, you're a lovely ninety-five pounds of sleepy weight, Buffy. Joyce turns to face me, eyes shiny, "She's so light, Willow. She shouldn't be so light."
She also shouldn't be able to carry Buffy like that, but I shouldn't be able to cave in a building with a word and a fatman shouldn't be able to torture a woman I love because of some archaic organization. So in all consideration Joyce carrying her daughter so easily because Buffy has been…has been….
Oh God, oh God, God, God, God, God, God….
Swallow and bite down, bite down on it now you stupid, stupid wiccan; bite down good, I need to throw up. Calm, calm. What happening now? Right, I understand; the shock of Buffy's torture is beginning to hit me full force. I hadn't had time to really process it until now. There were other things to do, save her get her home and now that those are done. Keep it together, don't collapse now, we can't afford, I'm- the world spins, can't feel my legs.
"God," I mutter clenching my teeth. A hand on my shoulder keeps me from collapsing. The Hunter stares at me, I shake her hand off. This is her fault and I'm not going to forget that despite her help.
I hold the door open for her Joyce; she carries Buffy inside and I move to follow. "Willow," The Hunter calls out to me.
I face her, "What is it, and make it quick."
"Two things," The Hunter replies. "First you're out of balance. You used a lot of power tonight, too much for the wrong reasons; you have to correct that or the slope will increase."
"What are you talking-" I try and say.
"Second," she interrupts me. "Don't trust the British guy, the one you called Giles."
That gets me angry. "Sure, yeah that makes sense, just oodles of it. I can see all the sense pudding on the ground around your feet."
I straighten my shoulders and glare up into The Hunter's face. "I'm supposed to believe you, the woman who captured Buffy for The Council, and watched them torture her, when you tell me not to trust one of the few people I consider family. That's really a good idea," I snap my finger. "Wait, no it isn't."
The Hunter shakes her head slightly, "Family as in parental figure I'd bet," she says. "And how often have you known parental figures to do things they really shouldn't because they think they know what's best for everybody? You know how it goes, 'because it's for their own good?"
I can't reply to that. I look through The Hunter trying to think of something to say to knock her down.
Nope, can't think of a thing; thanks heaps imagination.
The Hunter shrugs slightly, "Adding that he was taught by and is part of the same organization that ultimately did all this would be a little pointless wouldn't it, but, it's still something that you should keep in mind."
"Something to think about, Willow," she says walking backwards still staring at me. "Just something to think about."
And then the shadows swallow her and The Hunter is gone.
I close the door behind me and then lock it.
While I was outside Joyce must have put Buffy on the sofa and then covered her with a blanket; she's now kneeling by Buffy with a first aid kit, a bucket of water and some torn sheets. Dipping the shreds of cloth in the warm water she dabs less tender burns covering her daughter's arms.
"This probably stings a little honey, I added bleach to the water," Joyce tells Buffy. "And I'm sorry about that; this won't take long though. I promise, dear, and soon you'll be fine. I've seen how fast you heal, it's really amazing."
She dips the rag she's holding into the bucket and then starts to dab at one of Buffy's feet.
I notice, standing where I am in the entrance way, Joyce's hand is trembling. If she herself notices it she's not letting on. Joyce dips the rag back into the water, in an instant it goes from crystal clear to a pale pink. The rag drips water on the rug and the sofa; adding to the mess that Buffy's blood is making to the once perfect living room. Joyce's trembling worsens but she resolutely tries to keep cleaning her daughter.
"Goddamnit!" Joyce shouts throwing the now bloody rags back into the bucket.
Muddy red water slops all over the rug. "I hate your healing so fast Buffy," Joyce says, her eyes are filling up. "I hate how you need to be able so heal fast and I hate so much wondering-"
Out of the corner of her eye she spots me and stops cold; she takes a deep shuddering breath, another and then a third. "Willow," she says calmly shading her eyes with one hand. "Could you please finish cleaning Buffy's injuries? I'm going to call an ambulance."
"Uh, Mrs. Summers?" She's going to kill me, I just know it. "There's some other things going on and sending Buffy to a hospital would really complicate those, um, things. Could you, maybe, just call Giles and the rest of the gang," I pause. "Please?"
Joyce stands up and walks over to me, "Do you know what's going on young lady?" she asks me quietly. The hair on the back of my neck stands up. "Do you know why this is happening to my little girl? Can you explain this to me in words so that I'll be able to understand?"
"Not, uh, everything, Mrs. Summers, no. But I think I have a better idea than most."
"And after this meeting starts will it be 'suggested'," Joyce makes quote marks in the air with her fingers. "That I go to my Gallery, maybe do an inventory?"
"No!" I gasp. "No never Mrs. Summers, you're Buffy's mom and- I mean," I shake my head fiercely. How could she even think I'd ask- "We'd never, or even I'd never, nobody would ever-"
"No one ever tells me anything," Joyce suddenly explodes. I flinch back; she doesn't notice. She's not looking at me anymore, just over my shoulder in fact. "I find out Buffy's a Slayer and her first lover was a vampire nearly two years after the fact. Then off she goes to college and now the first time she 'visits'," Again with the quotes. "I find her here in the kitchen with her best friend. This isn't that strange until I find out that they're now lovers and then when Buffy comes over again-" Joyce's voice cuts off, she shakes her head fiercely.
"Why won't you tell me anything?" Joyce asks me, locking me in place with her 'Mom-Vision'.
"Uh-" I stammer. "She- Buffy doesn't want you to, er, to er worry." Oh, yes. That makes sense. Good job, good job.
"Well I do worry!" Joyce thunders. "I'd worry if she was a normal girl and doing normal girl things. That she's a," Joyce waves her hands around, trying to find the right phrase I guess. "Supernatural warrior of some sort," she wipes at her eyes. "You can't understand."
"No," I whisper, "I do understand. In my own way."
Joyce starts to get that look on her face my mom did whenever I contradicted her, I press on. "It's not the same way as your worrying, Mrs. Summer, but every time Buffy goes out to patrol I worry. I love her, I love your daughter and so," I shrug. "I worry."
"In your way, Willow," She admits.
I nod, "Yeah, you're right. It's not the same."
Joyce out of nowhere smirks slightly. She stands up, "I'll go make those phone calls."
As she walks past me I grab her arm, "Mrs. Summers?"
Joyce stares at me, "Buffy will be alright," I tell her. "I promise."
She opens her mouth to say something, looks puzzled for second then nods at me before leaving the room. After Joyce is gone I go over to the sofa and sit down on the floor. I take one of Buffy's hands in mine, as I touch it a few flakes of blackened skin break off and drift onto the carpet. My stomach heaves. I open my mouth and bite down on my knuckles.
Mustn't scream, or sob or break down. I promised Joyce and will keep my promise. Reaching out I tuck an errant lock of Buffy's hair behind her ear. "There," I say to her. "You- You're looking better already."
I lace the fingers of my right hand with Buffy's; remember how she should feel Rosenberg, I instruct myself, remember how soft and strong her fingers are, pay no attention to the slight crackling sensation of her dead skin crumbling and you had also better not consider what exactly that liquid is sliding between your fingers. No, you just have to keep in mind how Buffy should feel and be felt, and don't throw up while you're at it.
I stare at Buffy's face, remarkably it's almost untouched. Her lower lip looks a little ragged, like she's been chewing on it. She probably has, she does that when she's trying not to react or scream in pain. I've seen her do it many times while I've nursed various aches, or wounds. Some dirt smudges her forehead and cheeks and there are some muddy tracks where she must had let a tear or two slip free. Other than those though her face, my Buffy's face, is damage free.
I take a deep breath, "Buffy, I'm going to try something. Someone said, someone told me, and she's not a friend but I think she's right; she said I have to restore some balance that I might have knocked off its keister tonight. I might have gotten a little wiggy with, um, the magic."
I squeeze Buffy's fingers tight, ignoring the slippery, cool sensation, "So I'm going to try fixing it. I'm going to try and heal or help your own healing. Help you, help yourself," I smile, don't want to; it's not a smile time, it just happens. "I love you, you know that. Never really tried to heal anyone before. I mean I wanted too," I shrug. "Never got around to that level. Then again I never wanted to accidentally knock a building over either.
Tears spring up; I blink them back, "So here's um, the plan. It might not work you know. Nothing might happen or," Deep breath. "Or I could take in to much and well pop," I make an exploding gesture with my free hand. "Cause that's what I'm going to do: Gather up the light and, I guess, try and channel it. This will be a, well maybe not as risky as being lesbians in some regards. I could just wind up dead and not loathed by humanity at large. Yay! See? Silver lining in everything, you just-" I can barely see her through my tears. "You just gotta think- Oh God Buffy they hurt you so badly. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
I want to cry, the pain, guilt, whatever comes surging over me and I want to go with it, to just drown in it. No, I won't. I won't go with it and go numb. With my free hand I wipe my eyes, "That won't help will it, hon?" I sniffle and force a smile that she can't see. "I'll admit I'm scared, you're scared every night you go out though. You've never told me, and I'll never ask but I know. I bet you know I know and we could get into a huge conversation about who knew what the other knew and whether you knew that I knew that you knew and…oh it would be wonderful." I sigh. "We don't have time, do we love?"
Shifting forward on my knees I kiss her on the cheek then settle back down. Crossing my legs I look at her again, maybe for the last time. "Love you, here we go."
Leaning forward I place my hands over Buffy's heart, anyone walking into the room might think I was trying to cop a feel; as Buffy loves me I do not have to cop anything and besides this is a laying on of hands.
A laying on of hands, one of the oldest ceremonies of healing in the history of the world; the idea being for one to act as a conduit for the more friendly energies around us. Of course in this day and age people are kept distant from the sick or injured; that doesn't change the fact that, regardless of intent, a touch, a caress, holding a loved ones hands can make all the difference in the world.
My intent is deliberate, my goal to heal, and I'm willing to do anything, anything to achieve it. So, taking a deep breath, I open myself.
Is it me? Is it just me? Am I the only person who does this? Someone who, despite pain, or fear, or pleasure or love, there's always some tiny part of me coolly taking note of everything around me. Do only I do this? Does this make me some sort of freak?
Right now it's agony, wave after wave rampaging through my head and I should be distracted, I should be unable to focus, to be aware of this and keep such a clear memory. I know for example that the clock behind me is striking a little past quarter the hour, I just heard Joyce hang up the phone. I also know that to keep my self from screaming out loud I bite my tongue. I can taste it, coppery and salty, flowing between my teeth. I think there's a little bit dribbling over my chin, can't…won't take my hands off Buffy to wipe it away.
Hands, hands, hands, my hands or her hands, maybe our hands…they're burning. They are burning our hands. Zig zagging, crisscrossed lines of fire mark my hands, I can't- I can't bend my fingers. They're burning; oh god they're burning, she's burning, I'm burning.
Her flesh is calling, calling to the white, to be healed and I've just let myself be the conduit. So much, so much, so much, she's, they're, sucking in so much. Hungry, they, Buffy, she, them so hungry. I can't gather, can't collect fast, give fast enough.
Can't take it. Hurts. Burning in her memory, burning in the white. Scream, can't. Tongue doesn't remember how to work.
What's happening? Pain is happening; muscles are locked, I'm crosslegged in a room; have I ever been here before? Where is here? Who's she? Who's this naked woman lying on the…um…God, pain and white and pain and white. They're hurting her. Who's hurting her? Who is she? Someone I love. Why?
She's lying on a sofa. That's what that thing is called, a sofa. And behind me is the television, around the corner the kitchen. I know where I am, I know this place it's…uh, gimmie a second, it's right on the tip of my tongue.
So much, her need is so great, pulling in all the energy, freely offered white and she's accepting it all, through me, can barely see, barely keep my hands on her chest; whoa. She's beautiful! But…I know that, I always have. She's special that's why I'm doing this, she's special and I've become a conduit for white to help her. I love her.
I don't know who she is anymore, so full of white, no room left for her name or this place. So full, so bright, so hurting, so good going to explode.
I look at her, I love her. Love her, love you, heart beats out love.
I don't even remember my name.
With a gasp I yank my hands from Buffy's chest.
Buffy, her name is Buffy. I'm Willow, I love her, she loves me, homesexuali- I hate that damn limerick.
Right, to recap, I'm Buffy, no she's Buffy, I'm Willow and she was hurt and I wanted to fix her. Help her, heal her. This is her Mom's house; we came to her Mom's house. Her Mom, Joyce is Buffy's Mom's name. Hi Joyce! Called Giles. Giles is British and therefore, by law, is not allowed to have sense of humor. Poor, poor Giles.
I helped Buffy!
"Willow," the woman in the archway says. She's talking to me; I think she's talking to me. I am Willow yes? Yes. "Are you okay?"
"You bet," I say. I try to give her thumbs up, fingers refuse to cooperate. That shouldn't be a problem, fingers are not thumbs; in this instance though, my thumbs are stubborn thumbs.
"What was that light?" Joyce, no Mrs. Summer, no Joyce; both, neither. Who cares?
"Healing," I point to Buffy. "Promised to help, so I did."
Joy- Mrs. Joyce walks over to Buffy and lifts one of Buffy's hands. The blackened, crusty skin and scabs flake away under her touch. Underneath we both see, slowly being revealed as more of the dead flesh peels or falls away, smooth, pink, soft skin.
Joyce looks down at me, I'm sitting on the floor, comfy soft floor…rug…whatever. There are tears in her eyes, dripping down her cheeks, "You did it," Buffy's Mom whispers. Yes, henceforth the sometimes Joyce, sometimes Mrs. Summers will be: Buffy's Mom. "You healed her."
Aw, she's crying harder now. What's wrong Buffy's Mom? Did a man hurt you? Is that why you're crying? Did a man break up with you? Smash your tender heart? You should do what I do when a man breaks up with me, I sing 'Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" really, really loudly for a very long time! It works.
Or so I think, men don't break up with me because I don't like men. I'm a lesbian. 'People think that we're just friends, actually we are lesbi-' Arggh…stupid limericks!
Yes! I am a lesbian, free from the tyrannical yoke of males, to love who I wish, where I wish and not have to accept two point five children in some distant future. I can also leap tall buildings with a single bound!
Buffy's Mom kneels down besides me, cups my face in both hands and turns me to face her, "You saved my little girl," she says very seriously staring me in the eyes. "Thank you."
I want to tell her about my neat-o lesbian magic powers! I want to enlighten her on just how snuggly her daughter is on cool evenings, I also want her to know why I still think Knight Rider is a cool show even though I'm in college.
Instead I say, "I have a very bad headache."
And it all goes black.
"Willow, can you hear me?"
"Hmmm?" I mumble; I reach down looking for the blanket to pull over my head. Light filters through my eyelids. I've got a headache and I can't find the blanket.
"Willow, its Giles, are you awake?"
Giles? Giles is in our dorm room? At this ungodly hour?
"Giles get out of our room!" I lurch upright. "Ow!" I cry and grab at my temples as my headache gains strength. I squeeze my eyes shut until the spotlights and gongs in my brain dull down to a bearable groan.
Blinking a few times I see Giles crouching down in front of me. "Actually we're not currently in your room, Willow." He says gently. "We are in fact in the middle of Mrs. Summers' living room where, until a short time ago, you were passed out." He stands up and offers me his hand. I take it and he pulls me to my feet.
"I arrived at most half an hour ago," he interrupts me. Giles never interrupts unless he's anxious, worried or angry. "Upon my arrival I find you, as I said, passed out and the entire room soaked in magical energy and you without so much as a basic circle of protection. I had to ground all the ambient power, which was quite careless of you.
"How long-" I try to ask.
Interrupting me again Giles replies, "Just over half that hour," He's really pissed. "I came in response to Mrs. Summers' frantic call about you arriving with a strange woman. Buffy being unconscious and all three of you covered in blood."
At Buffy's name I rush over to the sofa, "She's much better," Giles says. "Despite your carelessness your efforts were not in vain."
"She's okay?" I ask. Buffy still slumbers, her body covered by the fuzzy blanket that usually hangs off the back of the couch. I reach out and fold back one corner of the blanket.
"She is better," Giles says sitting down in one of the large chairs across from us. "The wounds that Mrs. Summers described most horrifically have for the most part healed."
I take one of Buffy's hands in my own and brush my fingers across the blackened blood and burnt skin, my stomach clenches, heaves, under my touch the crusty materials flakes away exposing whole, unblemished, if a bit tender, rosy pink skin.
"I did it," I whisper more to myself. "You're going to be okay."
"Yes you did, she still needs to be cleaned up a little but she will be ultimately fine." Giles says and his voice sounds tight and stressed. "The most pressing question on my mind is why."
"Why?" I ask. I'm not grasping something, I'm running a little behind I think.
"Yes," He snaps; his voice getting louder. "Why was there any need for Buffy to be magically okay'ed as you put it? What events occurred that made it necessary, and most importantly-" Just as he's about to bellow he breaks off.
Giles takes a deep breath and lets it out his nose, behind his glasses he stares at me; in his glasses I can see it, them, his fear, concern, anger and frustration are practically crackling inside him. He takes another breath and blinks and just like that all signs of his anxiety are gone.
"And most importantly," he continues far too calmly. "Why didn't you inform the rest of us?"
"I still have a headache," I answer unhelpfully.
Joyce, who has been standing their sorta out the way the whole times speaks up, "I have some headache medicine, would you like some?"
"Aspirin free?" I answer. "It upsets my stomach if there's aspirin."
"I think so," Joyce replies with a nod. "I'll be right back."
She almost seems grateful to dart out of the room.
I sit down on the floor, besides the sofa, keeping Buffy's hand in mine; my thumb drifts over the pulse point in her wrist and the gentle thrum, thrum, thrum of her heart counters and dulls the pounding still going on in my brain.
"We didn't contact you," I start slowly. "Because there wasn't time."
"Time," he repeats.
I nod. Buffy grunts slightly, sounds a little distressed. I reach up with my free hand and touch her forehead, stroking her. She sniffs once or twice then settles down.
"We…we had a fight," I continue. "Yesterday and she wasn't back this morning."
Giles leans forward, resting his chin on his fists; not saying anything just listening. "So I panicked a little, did a guide spell," I say. "It failed."
He raises his eyebrows slightly, "It was blocked then." He murmurs.
"Duh," I mutter. "I didn't know that at the time and I really panicked. Did some silly things, checked the papers, scared some students then I tried to reach out to her and, well, The," The what? Sensations? Experiences? Sheer skull crushing, brain peeling agony? "Feelings, the pain knocked me out. I couldn't take it."
They were feelings; kinda in the same way most psychos are 'a little crazy'.
"So you knew she was in trouble then, Buffy I mean." Giles says.
I stand up; the floor hurts my butt even with the carpet. Sitting back down on the edge of the sofa I stare at Buffy. Most of the blood has been washed off her face. Joyce must have done some more work on her while I was taking my second nap.
"Yeah, I woke up hours later and she was there, in my room. Just waiting for me."
"She?" Giles asks me.
I shrug, he's going to hate this part; that I trusted or at least followed some totally unknown woman. He can't understand, heck I can't understand why I did it. I was out of my mind, almost literally. Thinking back on it I can't even remember clearly what the Hunter said. I do remember we need a new wardrobe though, ouch…and clean the rug….
All that aside though what should I tell Giles? Lie? Say I was forced; that wouldn't really be a lie, kinda. I was forced, in a way, I did the forcing though or, um, it had to be me, us, I don't know why, I'll probably never know why but I knew then, just like I know now that it had to be done that way.
Inhale. "She said she was a hunter; big girl, woman, dressed in animal skins. She had captured Buffy as she was ordered to. She felt bad about it, needed help getting Buffy back. Said there wasn't time to get other, meaning you Giles, help. I wasn't thinking straight so I agreed to follow her lead." Exhale.
Giles doesn't look as upset as I thought he'd be. He looks at nothing for a few minutes, "Hunter," he mumbles then he comes back, glances at me. "Never heard of her," he says with a shrug of his own. 'Continue, then what happened Willow?"
Joyce re-enters the room, wordlessly hands me two small pills and a glass of water. I swallow them, drink the water and hand the glass back to her. She sets the glass down on the coffee table and stands there staring at me. It takes a few seconds for me to get the message.
I let go of Buffy's hand and slide down the sofa giving Joyce room to sit down beside her daughter. Now I have to tell Giles about how I caved in the front of warehouse, nearly got my head taken off, Buffy beating down a steel door and killing a man. Oh and lets not forget the little bit about the other people talking to me through Buffy and how Buffy is 'sleeping'. That should be a big hit with him. And I have to do this all, now, with the added bonus of that sour, acidy feeling in my stomach that wants me to be very angry at Joyce for making me move. I don't want to be angry at Joyce.
"Um, where was I?" I say, trying to delay.
"The Hunter had taken you to where Buffy was being held," Giles answers.
I glance at Joyce; she's staring right at me, no intention of going anywhere.
The first words are not that hard; I'm kind of pleased with myself that I crushed the warehouse. I shouldn't be, it's probably not a good thing to be feeling a little smug. When I get to the actual crushing Giles' expression doesn't change. Joyce lets out a little gasp. I risk another quick glance at her.
No, please don't look at me like Mrs. Summers. It's still me. See? Its just me, just Willow. I mean I'd never want to do anything like that again. Really I wouldn't. I'd never hurt anybody! I'm still little Willow Rosenberg who everybody made fun of all the time and even though I probably really could show them now I won- I mean…I mean wouldn't. No, never! Gotta stop thinkin' this way; gotta stop. Look Mrs. Summers, look at this smile. It's the same ol' Willow smile I've always had.
Giles clears his throat.
I blink, oh. "Oh, sorry." I mumble. "Got, heh, lost in thought."
Deep breath. Keep going.
Now it gets hard. Not the big boned Fatman, the gun at my head, the crazy, angry expression on The Hunter's face….
"H-he had me," I squeak. "Said he was going to kill Buffy, said it was in her own interests, he was about to kill me." My fingers ache- Oh! I'm squeezing my pants legs. Wow, my knuckles sure can get white.
"Then Buffy knocked down the door," I keep speaking. My mouth is running by itself. I can't stop staring at my fingers. Squeeze the clothing, knuckles go white, release the clothing, knuckles go red. "Fatman started going crazy, really panicking. Said it was impossible, that The Slayer shouldn't be able to take a steel door off its hinges like that."
Giles starts slightly at the word 'steel' , almost leaps out of his chair, he catches himself, sits back, tries to look relaxed.
"Then we saw Buffy," I say. I start to describe her, how she looked and when I get to telling about her eyes, those ice, ancient eyes, Joyce sobs just a bit, just a tiny bit. I see her jump, out of the corner of my eyes. The pounding, my headache, I can hear it. Thrumming and beating…a giant pendulum roaring across my head drowning out all other sound. I can't hear my self speak, at least my tongue is really busy right now and not in a fun way eith-
The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. My head turns, it's being dragged I don't want to see….
Joyce is staring at me; her lips are tight, pulling the skin of her face tight against her skull. Her soft, mom-features are gone; the kind I wish my Mom had. The color is draining from Joyce's face. Slowly she raises one hand to her mouth and covers it, with her other hand she reaches behind her and, without looking, unerringly strokes Buffy's hair. She's still staring at me; with tears brimming, face pale she won't stop staring at me. On the plus side I don't think I'm talking anymore.
"Buffy killed him then?"
I snap around, Giles, still sitting calmly looks back at me. "Huh what?"
"The Fatman I believe you named him," Giles says. "Buffy killed him?"
So that's where I left off. "I'm not sure, I mean yeah, I guess. I mean I think I have a lot of him on my shirt and The Hunter wouldn't let me- I was pretty out of it Giles and-"
Did I jus, yeah I thinkI did. And I didn't realize this before because why?
"Oh my God!" I shout. "I'm wearing part of the man on my shirt!!"
I leap to my feet; I've got to get this shirt off! Have to get it off now!
Get it off, get it off, and get it off, gedditoffgeddidoffgeddioff!!
"Willow!" Giles grabs my hands, making me stare at him. "No! No!" I shout in his face. "My lover, kidnapped, tortured. Gun. My head! Headache! She's, she's not there! She's gone away, Giles! Buffy has gone away!" I tug, pull, let me go Giles! I have to go Giles, please! "She- No, they or it, or she or maybe she and they. They said Buffy is resting! Let me go!"
He does, just as I pull.
He let me fall on my butt!
That's going to bruise.
"Giles," I say quietly. "I'm wearing a large part of a man's head on my shirt."
He crouches down beside me, "Yes Willow," pause. "I can, quite literally, see that."
"Giles," I say, still quiet. "What happens now?"
He sighs, "Buffy has killed a human being. Should The Council find out they will…well after that disaster with Faith I'm not sure anymore."
Oh. Right. Forgot to mention that little detail.
"Giles?" Now I'm very quiet.
"What, I didn't quite catch that," Giles says. He leans forward.
"I said: they were Council." I don't look at Giles. It's easier to stare at my new Jackson Pollock shirt.
"Who were?" Giles asks.
I start to stand up and, I have no idea why, brush off my pants. "They, Fatman, his men. They were Council." Brush, brush, brush. "They hired The Hunter, they tortured Buffy, they tried to kill her and me, and Buffy killed…,well The Fatman at least."
I jerk my head around to stare at her.
"I'm glad my daughter killed them, they deserved it. They tried to hurt my little girl, those bastards." Joyce's says; her tone is even and controlled. Her eyes on the other hand…and I thought Buffy was scary looking when she was angry!
"Shut up, Rupert," she cuts him off. "They did this to her," she pulls back a corner of the blanket, revealing the still harsh burns, now blisters at worst, that criss-cross up the length Buffy's arm and shoulder. I didn't manage to heal all of her it seems. "They would have done, God only knows what else." Joyce shakes her head.
"Broken her," I say. My fingers clench of their own volition; it's such a foreign thing, to see my hands as fists. "They wanted her broken. He said it was for her own good; that she was 'misbalanced'. That they were merely restoring the balance. He just, they just wanted her broken really. Or dead. Either way they'd be in control."
Giles walks back to his chair, sits down, takes off his glasses and tucks them in his pocket. He rubs his eyes a few times. "They must have found out about Buffy's condition."
"Sure, so they try and help," I snort. What's left of Fatman is starting to dry out and, not only is it a bit icky. Yech, it's starting to chaff too. Not really comfortable crusty brain matter, humph, this is not how I thought I'd spend my day.
Giles has stopped rubbing his eyes, now he's massaging his temples. His eyes are fixed and far away. Joyce is silent now, apart from whispered comforts that Buffy can't hear; I can hear them though and I don't want too. Giles stands up suddenly. "Joyce, might I have a word?" He glances at me. "In private?"
Joyce stands up slowly, obviously reluctant to leave her daughters side. After some hesitation though she does. "I'll watch her, Mrs. Summers," I say, trying to be helpful, trying to be included. 'I love Buffy too you know', I can't say. Joyce gives me a pained and, if I try really hard to fool myself, maybe an only half forced smile.
Which if fine with me; I'll get to be alone with you Baby, just you and me…for a little while. No, I'm not greedy hon, just want a little time with you. I'll share you when they come back…I'll even pretend not to mind.
"I know you will," Joyce manages to say. "We'll be right back."
The door swings shut behind them, I scoot over right next to Buffy and grab her hands.
"Take your time guys," I whisper to myself, kissing Buffy's fingertips between word. "It's not like you're going to hurt Buffy or anything.
"You're going to do what?!" I shout right in Giles face. If I wasn't ready to kill him I'd waste time being surprised he didn't get knocked over. Instead he grimaces slightly, "Willow, please-"
"No," I shout. "No I will not try and understand, not even for a please with sugary sprinkles and, uh, and…" nuts, hit a blank space. "Stuff!" I finish lamely.
"You want to put her back in the box!" I scream at him. "Are you insane? Did you hit your head rushing over here? Or is this some British thing? Idiocy in the face of danger?"
Giles blanches slightly and risks a glance at Joyce who's staring at me, eyes wide, which is easily understandable as I really want to rip these two stupid adults apart! And I love them more than almost anything. "That box, that cage they put her in," I take a deep breath. "It nearly destroyed her! My Buffy," A quick glance at Joyce. "Our Buffy," I amend. "Was hurt so badly that she's…she's gone away!"
"Yes, exactly," Giles says leaping into the breach. "She's gone away, the Feral is in control now, or could be. The last time that happened it wiped two villages in northern Russia off the map." He takes a step closer and says softly, almost fatherly. "It's not a box, or a cage, Willow. It's a safe environment where the danger of the Feral can be contained and Buffy can rest, so she can return to us."
"What about what she said?" I insist, poking Giles in the chest with every word.. "Your 'safe environment' is still a prison. She has to be free!"
He grips my shoulders gently, I almost shake them off , that would be immature, "Who said, Willow?" He asks, still using that fatherly voice that, about two seconds ago became suddenly very annoying. "Just this other? A mysterious voice with bright, as you said, ancient blue eyes? That's not good enough I'm afraid." He says with a shake of his head. "It could be a form of possession, or something even worse."
Now I want to slap him.
"What?" I boggle. "What happened to trust me? Did the last three years never happen?" Now I shrug out of his grasp and back up a step. "What about all that team stuff; even you admitted The Scoobies were important. You turned your back on The Council for us, for her!" I point behind me where Buffy is still asleep or comatose…no don't think like that. She's asleep.
"You don't understand-" He tries to start one of his speeches. Oh right, like I'm going to listen to that old line.
"Explain it to me then!" I challenge him.
Giles doesn't say anything for a moment, just looks at me. Maybe trying to figure me out.
"Willow," he says in that quiet, deathless voice of his. "Buffy is not there any more. The Feral is and I assure you, if the Feral is free it will cause more destruction and death than the Mayor could have if he had actually partnered up with Angelus."
He takes a deep breath, "And is that what Buffy would want? To be a danger?"
I stare at him. My stomach shrinking, getting colder and harder by the second.
"She wouldn't want to be a hurt to anyone," Giles continues, his face, his tone both pleading and apologetic. "Not the people she protects, not her family, or her friends," he gets quieter, and quieter. "Not you."
There it is; the last thing.
I can't change his mind. I know that now.
"You're scared," I say, weakly. "You're scared because The Council did this to her!"
Giles crosses his arms, dismissing the idea of his being afraid. For good reason, I said it to sound desperate, he bought it, "It's what Buffy would want, her loved ones to be safe," He says. "It's for her own good as well.
The Hunter's words come back to me, 'because it's for their own good.'
"Mrs. Summers," I turn to her. She's been standing there silently the whole time, sitting in one of the chairs staring into the empty fireplace as if there were an actual fire there. "Don't let him do this, please."
She looks at me, blinks, "What? Oh…" Another blink. "No…no I'm sorry Willow. I agree with Giles on this. He filled me in completely and that, in addition to what Buffy herself has told me," her voice trails off.
The room is quiet, still.
"I think," Joyce continues finally. "No, I know this is what Buffy would want." She repeats Giles word for word. She gets up, crosses the room. Joyce is not much taller than me; this time I get the distinct impression that she's looking down on me. I let her, I don't like it. I'll allow it for now, not gonna like it, but I'll let her. "Everything will be fine honey," She says to me. She sounds like she actually believes it.
And I know what I have to do. I just hope one day they'll forgive me.
I turn around slowly and sit back down on the sofa. I reach out and stroke Buffy's cheek. Giles follows.
"Willow?" he asks. Not wanting to intrude. He's wants to do what's right and will end up destroying her; he's still polite. He'll always be polite.
I smile up at him, this must be startling. "You know I love you, Giles, right?"
That definitely catches him off guard and he actually swallows. "Well," He fumbles the words. "That's um, that's very, I mean to say- I'm quite fond of you too, Willow." He manages to stammer. "However I'm not sure how that has anything-"
"Mrs. Summers," I override him. I hold out my hands to the both of them. Haltingly, as if they don't trust me and they shouldn't. Oh God, oh God I'm sorry; they take my hands. Joyce's hand is cold, clammy, a little moist, a yucky gooky feeling. Giles' hand is dry and warm and only trembles a little bit.
"You guys are the best parents I know," I say, looking at both of them. "Which is kinda strange cause, well, Giles, y'know never even had children." I give him a sidelong glance. "You never have had children have you?"
He smiles softly, in that charming way of his. He's feeling better, no longer needs to be fierce and grrrr. He thinks I've given up and in a way, he's right, "No Willow," He says quietly. "I've had no children."
"I love my parents," I continue. "You know that. I mean, sorta have too. You guys though, you've both taught me so much. You're the best adults, no, best friends I know of that in that area."
Joyce and Giles exchange glances; they think this is the surrender that, under their guidance all will be well. As I said, they've taught me so much and one of the things I've learned is: When to stop listening.
"And that's why," Deep breath. "That's why I'm sorry."
At the word 'sorry' Giles tries to pull his hand away, his mouth opening in alarm.
"No," I command. Putting power, my power into the words. So little left, black and white dots are already flying in front of my eyes; I have enough though. Even if this breaks something I have enough, I have to have enough.
"Don't move," I command. "Don't speak, don't see, don't hear, let no worldly consequences forbear to intrude upon my made silence, till sun pierce skies at dawns ascent or I release you by my consent."
Both of them freeze, then their knees buckle and they collapse. The loud thump of Giles hitting the floor galvanizes me to leap up, or I try, the room spins violently and I almost miss her. I don't though; I grab Joyce and ease her down almost falling in the process. Essentially they're asleep and will wake at dawn, totally refreshed and, I'd bet, feeling pretty spiffy. Except for the mind numbing panic, fear, and sense of betrayal.
Which is my fault.
Something hot and wet trickles from my nose, down my lower lip. My tongue flickers out and I taste that coppery thick taste of blood. I stand up slowly, the room is only a little wobbly…I can get to the door easy. Oh, excuse me Giles I didn't see you laying there. Sorry. No, no…silly Rosenberg, ignore the pain; yes, it's blinding, white, shiny and comes in waves like a really pissed off tide. So what? Be…tough about it. C'mon…let's go. One foot in front of the other.
I walk past them, open the front door and, "I know you're out there." I say to the dark. My head feels like it wants to explode…again. Didn't I go through this kind of trauma last night?
"I said I know you're out there, you know I know, and I know you know that I know…so…we both know what the other…." I sigh. "I'm really tired," I mutter to myself.
"And I'm right behind you," The Hunter says calmly.
"I knew that too," I say without turning around. "Joyce left the back door open again. I need your help, but you knew that as well, didn't you?"
The Hunter only grins.
Disclaimer: All this belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Inc.(Legally, but they're mine in spirit. Mine, MINE!!)
Drain Brameged Inc. Proudly Presents
A Mad-Hamlet Production
Dianna Wears Red- Secundus
Oh, I hate waking up in…strange…beds.
Collect yourself, Rosenberg. Deep breath, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Now. How did I…oh right.
Yeah, gave us a ride out to the middle of nowhere and why is my bed so lumpy? Bad enough it's a strange bed but a lumpy, strange bed is just too much 'specially since….
Probably won't have any hot water wherever we are and where are we for that mat-
"Buffy?" I say aloud. "Where are you?"
The covers twitch slightly, then move slowly, a particular lump rises, moves back and forth slowly like someone looking around, then it collapses among the other lumps with a slight grunt.
Reaching over I lift the edge of the covers slowly and peek into the darkness underneath. In the dim light coming through the window, what time is it anyway, I see two blue eyes glimmering slightly. Her steady gaze flickers for a minute when she blinks; she doesn't look away.
All I can really make out in the darkness under the covers are Buffy's eyes. She stares at me without a sound for a moment; the mattress creaks slightly when she shifts her weight, the blue, glowing eyes rock slightly. She pulls herself up. A hand reaches out of the shadows, the fingers curl into claws, sink into the material, and find purchase.
I can barely breathe, can't move; it's like being stalked or hunted. I feel like I'm her prey but at the same time I'm perfectly safe. It's actually kind of funny. But I don't laugh, sorta scared too. I remember those ancient eyes in the warehouse, the guttural voice, 'Buffy is resting'.
Which means she's not actually there.
Which means it's likely something else is.
Which means a something else that can go toe to toe with multitudes of horde-like demonic types.
Oh yes, the most important question: Why didn't I realize any of this until after she woke up?
Too late now.
Her face enters the dim light of the cabin and the blue of these wild eyes of her just flare, and she still doesn't look away.
I need to swallow.
That would involve moving though.
Can't do that.
Then she lurches forward, and she's pressing her face against the crux of my neck, rubbing her soft cheeks against my skin.
"Mmmrrrrrrrrrrr," she cooes.
Now my voice works.
"Buffy?" Sorta. That was a bit raspy but then again she's pressing pretty much up against my voice box…in all sorts of wonderful, tingle-inspiring ways though.
Her rubbing hesitates for a split second, then she presses against me harder, I lose balance, fall onto my back and she's straddling me. Her hair hangs down all around me like a, uh, like a curtain that's, um, of shoddy workmanship, a litte matted, some, ew, dried blood most has fallen out and…its still, she's still so beautiful.
She stares down at me, a small half smile curving her lips, she doesn't make a sound and I can't, I won't, I don't think I can afford to, either.
After a moment she bends over, her face gets closer and closer and all I can see are those bright, gorgeous eyes. Is she going to kiss me? Is she 'back', is my Buffy back, rested, healed from the nightmare of just last night? Please kiss me, Buffy, oh please, oh please, oh please, please, please, plea-
She licks my nose.
That was unexpected.
She's smiling fully now, a wide, face splitting grin like she played some joke that I'm not sure I quite get. She giggles, a slight creak of warning from the bedframe and she launches off. I tilt my head back in time to see her land on all fours, almost without a sound.
Like a cat.
I roll over on to my tummy, pull my legs underneath and put my feet on the floor.
Instantly I pull my feet up. The floor is freakin' cold!
Nervous laughter, right. In a cabin, location unknown, with my girlfriend who happens to be a destined warrior against the forces of darkness and also is now not actually in her own body and I'm freaking out because the floor is cold.
Rationale. Makes perfect sense.
Buffy rolls over onto her side, hugs her arms around her stomach, and rolls around groaning.
"Let me guess," I mutter. "You're hungry." My own stomach chooses that moment to add to the protests and growls. "This means I have to put my feet on the floor, why can't these far off, totally unknown locals have more wall to wall carpeting?" I wonder aloud. I put my feet down, eek, let's take a look around.
The layout seems simple enough. There's the bed in the corner, fur blankets, how unsurprising, table in the center of the room with a oil lamp in the middle. Behind the table, against the wall is a floor to ceiling book case, beside which is an easy chair, a small table with another oil lamp beside it. In the opposite corner is a cast stove with a pile of wood beside it and directly across from the bed is a doorway. The front door is beside the fireplace, I think it's the front door and I can see trees so that must be it. Widows on either side of it let the sunlight in. What time is it anyways?
On top of the table appears to be a small pile of books.
Around the table are two chairs, my pants are flung over one, a small bag on the other. Feh, investigate later. Food now.
I pad across the room, Buffy walks beside me.
I refuse to be freaked out that she's doing it on all fours. Nope, don't mind that, not at all, lah de dah, nothing wrong here nosirree.
Aha, yes. It's a kitchen. Cupboards, shelves, drawers and another stove. There's a bowl of fruit on one of the shelves.
I grab an apple for myself and toss one to Buffy. She snatches it out of the air, shoves the entire thing in her mouth, and begins to chew noisily. I carefully take a small bite out of mine. Can't taste anything. Apple is a good start I guess.
I head out back to the main room, on the table, underneath the books, I see a piece of paper. A note.
I pull it out, sit down and read it.
You pretty much were dead asleep so I did all the driving; thanks for that by the way. The car is out front with the keys inside. On the other side of this note is a rough map that will lead you back to the interstate from their Sunnydale is pretty much straight south. You're in Northern California, the exact location is unimportant. You're in a cabin that no one I know knows about.I built it, and I didn't share that fact. I'm not good with sharing anything. I'm guessing you're reasonably safe there. The kitchen is fully stocked with canned goods; there's no running water or electricity.
"Jee thanks," I mutter and continue reading.
To the left of the back door, through the kitchen, is a well. The pump is hand driven. It's full, replenishes quickly so no worry about the water running out. Behind the cabin is a small lean too inside is a six month supply of firewood so you should be fine, provided you have the brains to start a fire.
"Hey!" I exclaim.
The books on the table are a basic introduction to outdoor survival. Start with the top one if you're inclined to stay there.
Beside the lean too is an outhouse. That should be interesting; you'll get used to it if you're there long enough. There is also a stream with a waterfall about a three minute walk behind the cabin. You can bathe there. Soap I made and other toiletries are in a trunk under the bed.
We won't meet again.
PS. I couldn't take the risk of Buffy waking up in the car in her current condition so I gave her a mild sedative. If she hasn't woken up already she will soon.
I'd be angry at that last bit except Buffy is awake, chewing on what was my apple, but awake. Ultimately no harm done I suppose. Still don't like that fur wearing little so and so.
I slip on my old clothes, yuck. Grimy feeling.
I go back to the kitchen and, after some exploring, find a can of soup, some matches, and a pot.
"Can opener, can opener," I mutter. "It would suck on a Hitchcocknian level if there were no can- ah, here we go."
I dump the soup into the pot. Oh yes, the stove.
Head back to the main room then, top book…title reads, 'How to Start a Fire'. Bet this is a best seller in LA.
Don't need it.
Beside the fireplace is a box full of old newspapers, I grab a bunch, go back to the kitchen. Buffy, this entire time has matched me step for step, waiting when I stop, moving when I move.
There's a box of dried twigs by the stove in the kitchen. Crouching down I open the stove, crumple up some paper, lay the twigs on top of them in a nice cross hatch and light a match.
Quick as a wink Buffy leans over my shoulder and blows it out.
"Um," I stare at her; she's grinning a big 'Ha-Ha' grin.
I light another, she blows it out.
Another, same result.
"Buffy," I say sternly. "I need to make a fire, okay?"
She's still smiling.
I pantomime lighting a match, she blows, I strike the head of the match quickly and thrust it among the papers. They ignite; a gentle puff of air from me and the flames spread up, quickly consuming the paper and leaping up, stronger to feed on the dried twigs. Gently, so as not to collapse the pile I lay on thicker and thicker twigs, and branches as the flames get hotter and higher. Satisfied I add two logs on top of the brightly burning, fire and shut the stove with a flourish.
Yep, Willow Know-How does it again.
I brush dust and bark off my pants legs and stand up. "Ha," I say staring down at Buffy. Should I? Yes, I stick out my tongue at her. Buffy, still on all fours, rolls her eyes, becomes very interested in a piece of bark on the floor, and ignores me.
With the pot of broth I head out the back. There's the well. I grab the handle and pump it to or three times. There's a gurgling from deep beneath the earth and that's it. I pump the handle and the gurgling resumes, water is flowing up the pipe I keep pumping the handle of the well, up and down, up and down and God this is boring.
Pump, pump, pump, I've been working on the raiilllrooaadd-
Buffy's, sitting on the back steps, stares at me with this bemused expression on her face. A little grin, eyebrows just a little too high. The classic 'How Interesting!' look.
"Oh no," I say. "No way, there is absolutely nothing innuendic about this. Get that phallic thinking outta you're blond head, slayer." I give the handle a defiant pump. "This is mechanics, not anything resembling anything. I push the lever up and down and water comes out the end of that-"
I cut off.
Buffy is still smiling.
"I'm going to be quiet now," I mutter and get back to work. A few seconds of quiet labor pass. The water spills out of the pipe into the bucket I placed beneath the spigot.
"There," I spin toward Buffy. "See? Just water for the soup. Get your head out of the gutter."
Buffy snorts quietly, and walks back inside through the still open back door.
"Phallic indeed," I huff, grabbing the pail. "I didn't enjoy it!" I shout through the doorway at her. "It was just work, we don't like that sort of thing anymore remember?"
Back inside I add some water to the soup, set the pot of soup on the stove. Now, I need something to do because, as we all know, a watched pot never boils. Neither does soup, it's boring too.
I'll get one of the books off the table, this I do. Returning to the kitchen with my book I sit in one of the chairs. The title of the book reads: Common Sense in the Wilds.
I flip to a random page. There's a large pictures of a poison oak and underneath the caption reads in large letters, 'Do Not Eat'.
You've gotta be kidding me.
This is the extent of natural know-how?
Buffy pulls herself up and rests her head in my lap. "Mrphle?"
"Mirful?" I repeat. "You're mithry? Mirthical? Feeling happiness again?"
She pushes at the book I'm holding and repeats, "Mrphle?"
"Oh, it's a picture of a leaf," I say. I flip it one page back. "There's a bear."
She shakes her head, which rubs her skin against my pants legs, "Aaiiggh."
Better ignore those kind of feelings. Til later, when she's better.
I flip the page back to the big green leaf. Buffy stares at the picture and let's out a long sigh. "You like that huh, Buffy?" I ask her, my free hand absently starts stroking her hair. "Like the pretty, green leaf?"
She doesn't make another sound, just stares at the book, the big, colored picture of a maple leaf. I keep running my fingers among the strands of her hair, watching how easily they flow between my fingers. Even though her hair is a little dirty, a little grimy, its still beautiful.
She's watching the book, I'm watching her and no one is watching the soup, as it reminds me when it boils over and the hissing of fried broth fills the room. Buffy leaps up and growls at the stove.
"Easy there, slayer," I mumble. I grab a wooden spoon and stir the soup down. Placing the book on a table I head for the cupboards, grab two bowls and very carefully poor a healthy amount of soup in both.
Buffy sits on the floor, legs curled underneath her looking up at me.
"No way," I say shaking my head. "You may be acting kinda animaly but I'm not letting you eat out of the bowl."
She cocks her head to the side.
I grab an extra spoon and a dish rag I found hanging inside one of the cupboards. I stand behind her and tie the rag around her throat. "Nnnnnnnnn," she whines pawing at it clumsily.
"Don't care," I respond. "You're wearing it, gotta keep the place neat n'tidy and when did I become June Cleaver?"
She stares at me with a puzzled frown. "Rhetorical question, thing," I say shrugging. "Never mind."
I dip one of the spoons into a soup bowl, lift it, hey, doesn't smell half bad. I blow on it softly until the rising steam lessens.
"Say aahhh", I instruct bending over slightly. Buffy rolls her eyes. "Fine, be ahhhh-less, just open them pearly gates, Slayer." With a slight shrug she slurps the soup from the spoon. I give her another, and another, and another until her bowl is empty.
"My turn," I say. I dunk my spoon, lift it to my lips.
"Aaaahhhh," Buffy says.
"No fair," I reply. "You had yours already."
"Aaaahhh," she repeats, this time rubbing her tummy.
"Nuh-uh," I point to myself. "Mine, my soup. You had yours, you can have more later, let me eat mine now."
"Ahhhhaaahhhaaahhhaa," she intones, bobbing her head back and forth, back and forth. "Aaaaahhhhhaaaahhhaahhh."
My stomach grumbles loudly. "Sorry," I say. "Cutesy with equally cute tummy superseded by red-head's empty tummy." And I slurp up the soup. Buffy gives an audible 'hmmph', turns her nose up and lies next to the fire.
"I don't suppose you'd consider putting on some clothes," I ask between slurps of soup.
Buffy 'hmphs' again and doesn't move.
I finish my bowl, by now the remaining soup in the pot has cooled. My hunger is pretty much satisfied; I grab a banana from the bowl, peel it, break it in half, and offer it to Buffy.
"Want it?" I ask.
She eyes it closely. "It's a banana, Buffy, they're yummy. Watch."
I pop my half in, chew…urk! Bruise, soft gooshy, yuck!
I cough, gag, scramble for the sink, lean over, and spit the remains of the banana out. "Um, eheh," I turn to Buffy. "Bad spot; generally bananas are enjoyable." She eyes the half of the banana I dropped in my mad dash, gives a little shrug, picks up, and eats it.
I toss another log on the fire, close the stove back up, ow, hot, hot, hot handle, hot handle. Shaking my hand I stick the burnt fingers in my mouth. Buffy stares at me. "I'm okay, honey," I mutter around my fingers. Pop em' out, hold them for her to see. "No biggie, just a little red; see?"
She stares at my finger tips intently for a second then, carefully puckering her lips and staring at me from half lidded eyes, blows cool air across them.
Shoot, everything's gone blurry, not fair. Why do I have to love her so much? Why can't I have her back, I hate this, I hate this! I shouldn't be spoon feeding her like a child, she's not a child. She's strong, and gorgeous and soft, and loving and brave and lots of other really neat adjectives.
Child is not one of them.
Child is a noun.
She shouldn't be walking on all fours; it's important how she should be hugged, not petted, important how she has an actual vocabulary and ability to talk.
To hold me.
To whisper to me at night.
I brush my hands across my eyes ignoring the dampness. Buffy tugs at my pants leg and stares at me. "No," I smile down at her. Her eyes are worry eyes. "No, I'm okay, baby."
"See?" I smile even wider and it's a real smile, I'm not faking it. "Everything's okay." I scratch the top of her head, she sighs contentedly. My hand only trembled a little.
"I know what we can do," I say. I crouch down; cup Buffy's face in my hands. "We can go for a walk! Explore the great outdoors, sound good to you?"
Buffy's eyes light up. Not sure exactly how much she can understand; she obviously got the meaning though. Her scrabbling across the floor toward the front door being evidence enough. I slip into my shoes, conveniently left beside the bed. "Let's go," I say to Buffy while holding the front door open.
Bang, she's out of there like a shot. I turn to follow and freeze.
The cabin stands on an incline, the clearing in the woods extends around it in a large circle. There's a porch and two big, comfy looking, rocking chairs on it. Before the cabin the ground just dips away, down the…mountain? Anyhow the ground dips away and stays pretty clear all the way down. I can see the dirt road that leads up here. The valley at the bottom is green, bright, far away and across the valley there's another rise, a mountain directly across from the cabin, miles away, far, far away and the sun, the sun is setting right behind it. Its orange fire peeks out from behind the opposing peak; the sky runs red along the entire horizon. Which isn't that much; looking into the trees beyond the clearing I can see the red sky flickering between the leaves. Above, dusk falls and the sky overheard is darkening quickly.
This will be a short walk.
Buffy is waiting by the car, as the Hunter said it's beside the cabin, thankfully pointing forward, toward the road. I'd hate to try having to back down. I can still barely shift gears.
Wow, nice car. No idea what kind it is. British looking; grey in color of course. The Hunter must have 'acquired' it from Buffy's kidnappers. Eh, why not.
Wonder when she got it? Maybe a bonus when she was doing that 'working for the bad guys' bit. Or she could have stolen it during that emotional slugfest with Giles and Mrs. Summers. Well, she got it, now I have it…and…hey.
I have a stolen car.
We're going to need it one way or the other. And those Council guys probably didn't leave a paper trail so it's not rented, or at least I hope not. Well, either way when the time comes we'll use it to get back to Sunnydale then get rid of it.
Or we could just drive to the nearest bus stop.
Later, that's for later when Buffy is better. When Buffy comes back to me entirely.
Behind the car I notice a small trail curving into the woods. "Let's go that way," I point. Buffy glances, shrugs, and follows my lead.
The trail winds around and around. I don't say anything, just walk past the trees, duck under the low hanging branches, feel the crunch of dry twigs under my shoes and I stay quiet. I watch Buffy, that's where all my attention lies. She darts from shadow to shadow, one minute to my left, the next, like a ghost, popping out from behind a trunk to my right.
I lose sight of her, a moment passes, another, a few minutes now. Starting to get worries, lots of worries; like gnats. Shoo, go away stupid worries.
Stupid things, they never listen.
No, she's playing a joke. I mean, she has to be, doesn't she? There are animals out here though…she's the Slayer she could probably take down a bear. Bear's are pretty big, no, she's fine just hiding somewhere. I'll close my eyes and count to ten, then I'll look for her.
Yeah, hide and seek. I can do that.
"One," I say. "Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten."
I open my eyes.
Buffy's big blue ones start right in my face from upside down, "Yurf?" she yelps.
"Aiiigghh!" I fumble, trip, fall over backwards, and land on my butt. Way to go Rosenberg, just scream like a…oh, right. Yeah okay.
Buffy, still hanging by her knees from a branch, giggles. I ignore her, I'm ignoring her, I'm not getting upset, not getting angry and most importantly I'm ignoring how her giggling, combined with gravity is doing all sorts of intre- lah, dee, dah, nothing wrong here.
Without effort Buffy flips down, off the branch. I pick myself up, brush myself off, get the mud off my butt as best I can. "Shall we continue?" I ask her. She smiles up at me.
I can see the dirt and grime from the woods starting to cover her. Her nails are caked in dirt, her face darkened by muddy streaks and there are leaves, looks like moss and seedling in her hair as well. The criss-crossing shadows from the leaves give her the appearance of clothing. White flesh flashing as she strides under wholes in the canopy, her skin briefly lit by the darkening skies. Only her eyes remain bright, only her eyes, watching me, watch her, remain unchanged.
She's more beautiful than I have ever seen.
The darkness increases, the shadows are spreading; I can still see the trail easily enough, the light grey of bear earth contrasts with the darker shifting of leaf and twig. Buffy isn't so playful anymore; as if the coming night is bringing out the more focused, more serious side of this part of her.
Maybe it is.
Maybe night is her time.
It always was when she was…all Buffy.
Either way she's not playing anymore. She walks, on all fours, by my side. Where my feet are clumsy, stirring up leaves, snapping twigs and generally making a ruckus, she is silent, without effort.
We move deeper and deeper into the woods. The sound is distant at first but grows louder and louder. I can tell where it's coming from, the sound of falling water. Before long we're standing at the base of a small, thin, but very tall waterfall. There's a pool of water at its base. I poke the surface with a fingertip, holy jeeze, that's cold!
Right. Mountain water.
This is my shower for who knows how long?
Some might call it 'bracing'.
I don't know anybody like that.
While I was thinking about the wonders of indoor plumbing Buffy has moved to the cliff side. She's standing directly under the waterfall, head flung back, eyes closed, still sitting on all fours. The falling water pounds down on her, there's the fact that it's really cold too but she doesn't seem to notice.
The sun has set. The sky is almost black; we have to get back to the cabin.
"Buffy," I call. "C'mon honey, time to go."
Buffy glances at me, slides into the pool and swims across. She wades out, shaking her head, then her left hand, right hand, one foot than the other. I try not to compare it to anything. She's Buffy, she's fine. She'll be back soon. I know she will.
"Let's go back to the cabin," I say to her and return to the trail, retracing my steps.
Turn around, there she is. She hasn't moved, she's still by the pool. "C'mon Buffy," I wave in the direction of the cabin. "We can have the rest of the soup, start a fire in the living room. I'll read to you from a book till we fall asleep."
She still doesn't move away from the pool. She sits there, her wet hair hanging in strands around her face, a face that's deep in shadow all I can see is her eyes. She's smiling at me, I can tell. It's a sad smile though. Why is she sad?
"Buffy? It's getting dark, we really have to go."
She doesn't move.
"We have to go, Buffy. C'mon, we have too." I move toward her.
She shakes her head.
"No?" I ask her. "What do you mean no? We're here, together."
She shakes her head again.
"Yes we are," I protest, my voice is getting louder. "We came out here to get away from everybody, from everything. So you could get better, so you could come back to me. We came here so you could be-"
The word catches in my throat.
"No," I whisper.
"No, that's not fair," Squeeze your eyes shut. Don't look, don't see, don't hear. Deny it, make it go away. Never worked before; hey, first time for everything. "It's not fair, baby, we came out here, you and me. I can be with you can't I? I can stay with you, you don't have to leave me do you?" I fall to my knees, branches dig into my pants, cold mud filters through the clothing, chilling my skin.
I notice this, sorta. A distraction I ignore.
I'm holding out my arm to her, begging her, pleading with Buffy to come back to me. She's just smiling that sad smile at me. "You can stay with me. We'll have fun, really, I'll cook, we'll go for walks. Please, baby, please, please, I'll be good. I swear I'll be right. Don't leave me behind, please, tell me you don't have to leave-"
She nods and a flicker of light through the branches reflects dimly off her wet cheeks.
"-To be free," I finish.
She nods again.
Slowly she walks, still on all fours, toward me; placing her hands on my shoulders she leans against me heavily and our faces our centimeters apart. Her breath rasps between her teeth; she takes my hand, places it over her heart, in the valley between her breasts. Her skin should be cold, chilled between the water and the night air but instead it's hot, blazing with heat. I can feel her heart underneath my fingertips, hammering away like a bird in a cage, fluttering against the bars, beating against its prison.
I grab her face, kiss her, hard, deep, fast. It's hot, aggressive, I slide my tongue between her lips, I devour her as quickly and completely. She doesn't resist, she kisses me back, hugging me, clawing at my shirt her fingers digging into my flesh, she'll leave bruises. Something to keep me warm for later, for now I kiss her, she kisses me.
Then I stop. My breath whistles as I gasp deeply, inhaling her own breaths, tasting her on my lips, teeth and tongue, I taste her, drinking in her heat, because soon that's all I'll have.
We breathe, for minute, I feel her heart again; if anything it's beating even faster and harder. Understandable, so's mine. I mean, duh. I know though, I know hers is beating for a reason different than mine. She's going crazy, since she woke up earlier this afternoon she's been trying to resist, trying to wait but she can't.
She can't wait any longer. I have to let her-
"Go," I whisper in her ear. "Go, be free, Buffy."
She signs, relaxes, and then vanishes from my sight. Without a sound, without a moment's hesitation or even a glance back over her shoulder she disappears into the shadows between the trees.
I wrap my arms and hug myself tight.
"It's okay," I whisper to the air; I hug myself tighter. "We'll wait."
I know she heard me.
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